On the Lean Thinker blog I came across this thought provoking lean culture deck by Mike Rother, author of (Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results) on a proposed definition of Lean:
“The permanent struggle to flow value to one customer”
Mike’s definition hinges around a key concept in great culture, that of mindset. Mindset enables people to apply a consistent cultural standard whatever the situation. Mindset becomes their foundation and starting point rather than which tool to apply.
Mike makes the case that many definitions of Lean treat it as a discrete toolset, something that Company B can pick up and apply in the same way as Company A to get the same results. For example, if Company A uses pink index cards and coloured markers to map their work out and achieved 45% reduction in overheads, Company B thinks all we have to do is get ourselves down to Staples, stock up on index cards and markers and we’ll magically achieve the same performance.
For the rugby lovers out there, you’ll remember Jonny Wilkinson’s ritual demi-praying feet-shuffling position prior to a kick.
I’m sure there’s legions of kickers that adopted the same outward appearance to improve their own kicking performance, but without the context, deep background and mindset that Jonny Wilkinson’s visible behaviours were merely an expression of, they won’t achieve the same outcome.
Tools make things look the same but culture helps you apply them effectively.
Central to Lean is the idea of continuous change and learning, one is always seeking to understand, iterate and improve more. I really like the theme in this definition of lean, that you need a thinking, passionate engaged human at the end of every tool, constantly questing for a better approach.
That ‘permanent impermanence’ speaks powerfully to me of the aspect of Toyota Kata that gives Lean culture it’s immense capacity to deliver performance advantages and really engage people. A culture that switches people on to constantly acting on the system they are a part of in order to make things flow better is both lean and engaging.
About the only thing I’d change in that definition of lean is to add something human, emotional and positive about finding joy in that challenge:
“The permanent joyful struggle to flow value to one customer”
Now where’ve I heard about joy before….