The last two articles have focused on the challenges of achieving cultural change and suggestions of how to break through them to achieve sustainable cultural change.
Key to this success is teaching, and key to teaching is recognizing the barriers that can prevent learning. One of the barriers to successful lean conversion is what might appear to be inconsistences in the philosophy of lean.
One inconsistency is the seeming conflict between the rigidness of formal written procedures and the requirement for continuous improvement. On one hand, we require conformance and on the other hand we encourage innovation. These two seem conflicting and counter intuitive, and they represent the first of the paradoxes of lean.
To move beyond this apparent obstacle we need to teach people to see this not as conflicting concepts, but as complementary concepts. We use the rigidness of the formal procedures to “anchor” the current state, while we continue to look for methods of obtaining further improvements. As conformance to a procedure improves, variables are progressively removed from that process. Once a procedure is strictly and repeatedly followed, any variation in output is no longer the result of variation to the procedure but a deficiency in the procedure, the process, or the materials; and that is an invitation to pursue further improvement.
A second paradox is in the drive to prevent rejects: to avoid failure and produce perfect quality. At the same time, we encourage people to try new things without fear of failure; we even encourage people to court failure while trying new ideas!
This is not conflicting when we separate the pursuit of these two actions. Trials cannot occur “within” an established procedure; they need to occur as independent functions removed from, and independent of, production. That means we need to create time and space for this activity and the best avenue for that is through kaizen events. The word kaizen comes from the Japanese word meaning good change.
Outside of a kaizen, there can be no allowance for violating an established procedure. Outside of a kaizen, there can be no allowance for risk taking. In both cases, production is put at risk. Individual “wild catting” is a level of risk that should never be encouraged.
Within the structure of a kaizen, both innovation and risk are invited and encouraged. Managed correctly, the risk is limited to a tolerable level and normal production is never put at risk. In this way, the rigidity surrounding production and the freedom of the kaizen become both complementary and synergistic.
I have to add a word of caution here regarding risk within the structure of a kaizen. If a kaizen group wants to try a concept that, by experience, you know will not succeed, be very prudent in any decision to say no; allow them the opportunity to learn through their mistakes. Mistakes can be every bit as valuable to learning as successes can be.
Follow up every failure with an “autopsy”—exactly what happened, why did it happen, and how it can be prevented in the future. Follow up every success by celebrating—and advertising that success across the organization.