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Leading Lean – Leaders Must Be Teachers

Last week, I mentioned that I would talk more about the lean forum I attended.  The theme of the forum was leading lean.  Several speakers presented and they all did a fantastic job.  One of the speakers was Jamie Flinchbaugh of the Lean Learning Center.  Jamie outlined five leadership moves that demonstrate lean leadership.

  1. Leaders Must Be Teachers
  1. Build Tension, Not Stress
  1. Eliminate Both Fear and Comfort
  1. Actively Engage, Don’t Just Delegate
  1. Apply Lean to Your Work

Over the next few posts, I thought I would share the message and how I personally have exhibited the behavior positively and negatively, because we all must learn from our mistakes.

Leaders Must Be Teachers

A teacher is not just someone standing up in front of a classroom explaining how to do something.  That may be part of it, but it is not all of it.  A big part of being a teacher is also being a role model.  Modeling the behaviors that we are teaching others and that we want to see.  My favorite quote about this was “People must see the role model or it isn’t role modeling.”

Jamie is exactly right.

I have spent many hours in front of classes teaching lean principles and lean tools to others over the last 10 years.  I have even spent a lot of time with individuals coaching them in their work environment.  Being patient with them until they start to see something in a new light.  It is very rewarding when someone makes positive changes and you can see it.

Where I have struggled is with role modeling.  Not that I don’t strive everyday to live the lean principles, but am I doing it where other people can see?

By nature, I am an introvert and I don’t seek out approval.  What this means is when I am living the lean principles well, I don’t show others.

Jamie even mentioned this feels like bragging and showing off which is exactly how I felt.  But, it isn’t.  It is leading and teaching others that it can be done.  It has to been known.

Will I make mistakes.  ABSOLUTELY!  Part of the teaching is showing that I have made a mistake and learned from it because we aren’t perfect.

So I ask you, are you a teacher only inside the classroom or are you a teach outside the classroom as well?

P.S. ……. K.I.S.S.

Problem Solving…Keep It Stupid Simple (as in really simple).

Recently, this is the valuable lesson I learned in coaching problem solving using an A3 to show the thinking.

Typically, when I have coached problem solving using the A3 I have had the A3 broken down into big sections (Background/Business Case, Current State, Problem Solving and Root Cause Analysis, Action Plan and Results).  Under each section there were more segments that broke down the process to help try to go through the problem solving step-by-step.

With another group, by necessity, a colleague and I informed them of what an A3 was, gave them a 20 minute high level explanation on the big sections and a single point lesson to help guide them.  A week later the three A3s we saw were probably the best first pass A3s I have ever seen.  There was still some learning and some tweaking to do to tell a good story but overall they were very good.

Upon reflection, people that got the minutia explanation were trying too hard to “fit the form” and not use the A3 to show there thinking.  The coaching became much harder and the people kept focusing on filling the A3 out correctly.  This cause frustration and in a lot of cases people didn’t want to use the A3.

The group that got the high level explanation felt the freedom to explain their thinking any way they saw fit.  The A3s were quite different but they all had the big segments (at least through the areas they have progressed).  The questions and coaching around these A3s were much different.  More around different modes of thought and next steps in the problem solving process.  Not what do I fill in here.

Just like physical processes…keep it simple when teaching and coaching problem solving using the A3 as a tool to make the thinking visual.

What are your experiences?  Is simple better in your eyes?

Lean Narratives

I’m a huge fan of narratives.  I don’t mean any particular narrative, just narratives in general.  Whether it’s George Washington chopping down the cherry tree or Taiichi Ohno going to a supermarket and coming up with the idea of kanbans or how small market teams can’t compete in baseball or why Nickelback is ruining rock music, it really doesn’t matter much to me.  I really enjoy breaking down themes and finding the brilliance or flaws in the points of view.  I can’t figure out if it’s because I’m just naturally curious or if I just really like to argue.  (Except about the Nickelback thing.  I’m not sure how anybody can argue against that.)

Lean seems to be drowning in narratives such as:  ‘Lean means we are getting rid of people’  ‘ Lean is about cutting out inventory’ ‘Lean is a collection of tools…’  ‘Lean means we are eliminating the 7 (or 8 or 9) wastes’  ‘Doing 5S (or 6S or 7S) means you are Lean’  ‘Kanban cards are key to Lean’  ‘Kaizen blitzes are the way to be Lean’  ‘Lean is the same as TQM’  ‘Lean is like Six Sigma’ ‘Lean is bottom up and Six Sigma is top down’  ‘Six Sigma is a subset of Lean (or vice versa)’  I could go on and on and I’ve probably left some really good ones out.

I bring this up because of a recent training experience that I had.  As I started the class, I asked what kind of perceptions people had about lean or what they knew about it.  Most of the responses were along the lines of the first 3 or 4 statements in the last paragraph.  For the first time, it really hit me that part of what I do when I introduce Lean is deconstruct people’s existing narratives and try to create new ones.  As I reflected more, I understood that one way for me to get better at what I do is to channel my inner Don Draper and find better ways to sell people seats on the Lean carousel.   As I try out some new ways to teach Lean concepts, I’ll post them here and maybe we can have some more discussion.

Understanding the Learner

It surprises me sometimes how much writing these forces me to confront what I don’t know.  Unbeknownst to Matt, he sent me for a loop with his New Year’s Resolution post about not reading any Lean books in 2012.   I have known Matt for almost 10 years and worked directly with him for close to 5, literally sitting right next to him for 3 of those years.  With all of that, I came to understand more about how he learned in 3 paragraphs than I knew in the previous decade.  Matt wasn’t downplaying the quality of Lean books or reading in general.  He was just acknowledging that he learns best by practice and experience as opposed to internally processing theory.  Personally, I’m pretty much the opposite.

I consider a big part of what I do and who I am as a person is being a teacher.  That applies for me not only in formal training activities, but through most of my personal interactions including working with my son’s basketball team.  Fortunately, being involved with Lean and problem solving allows me some great opportunities to do something I love to do.  I put a lot of effort in trying to focus, tailor, or even re-package the information I’m trying to deliver to get the best impact.  What I’m not so sure about is that I’ve really thought about the best way for people to utilize what I’m delivering.  I thought I was doing that, but now I’m seriously reflecting on how well I’m helping people close the gap between understanding and executing.

Matt’s plan for himself has indirectly given me a new challenge for 2012.  My challenge is to be much more intentional in understanding not only the impact of the message itself, but how people can get the most out of what they may be learning.  I could also take it a step further and try to figure out better ways to communicate with people teaching me so that I can become a better learner.  I can’t seem to recall the exact origin, but I’ve heard over and over the adage that “if the learner hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.”  Now my eyes are a little more open to seeing that learning has at much to do with executing as it does understanding.

What the Books Don’t Tell You about Being a Coach

Over the last 5 years, I have read a lot of books, articles, and blogs about lean.  At first, I read about tools and concepts.  Then I started reading about the people and management side of lean.  Now I read about determining my own strengths and weaknesses and how to become a better coach.

Books on the subject of coaching talk about how as mentor it is best to coach the mentee to a process.  That way way the mentee starts to learn the process and takes ownership for the solution because it is something they designed.  Teach the mentee to fish, so to speak.

After reading several books and articles, it finally dawned on me that all of this material had an underlying assumption to them.  The person receiving the coaching or mentoring has developed some basic skills.  In the case of the fishing metaphor, the person knows what a fishing rod is and what casting a line is.  In the lean world, the mentee knows what 5S, visual management, or kanban is.  They may not know the purpose of the tool or when is the appropriate time to use the tool, but they have some concept of what it is.

The mentor is there to help this person understand the purpose and time to use the tool by coaching to a process and not giving the solution.

What the books don’t tell you is that you need to be a teacher too.  A teacher is someone who can educate about the tool and concept.  Teaching adds tools to the toolbox, so a mentor can help the mentee use that tool.  It does no good to coach someone on making a problem visual if they have not heard of or know about visual management.  You have to step back and teach them about visual management and then coach them through a situation that uses visual management.

There are several ways to teach.  One is in the classroom.  Give training on what something is so people are exposed to it.  Another way is during a project or problem solving.  Teach a new tool or concept as it is being applied so the mentee learns about the tool and can see it in action.

Sometimes I think we assume that people know what we are talking about as coaches and that is dangerous.  If you are coaching someone and it looks as if they are not understanding or making progress, take a step back and ask yourself if they need to be taught something first and then coached.