Monday, October 5, 2020

Lean – So ‘Easy’, It’s Hard

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Striking how ‘easy’ Lean is, no?
  1. Define Purpose clearly & communicate it tirelessly
  2. Identify the main obstacles and/or enablers to achieving Purpose
  3. Treat people with respect and seek to involve everybody in improving the business
  4. Go see what’s actually happening regularly and with purpose
  5. Reflect regularly, openly & honestly on what’s working, what is not working, and why
  6. Keep going (until you die)
That last one is perhaps the most difficult, and, in my view, the sign of a great sensei. It’s how we transform a management system into a way of living and being, something that remains after we’re gone.

I think of George Kissell, the legendary St. Louis Cardinal minor league manager, teaching baseball fundamentals well into his eighties. Or Ed Deming still teaching, kicking butt and taking names from a wheelchair at the age of ninety three.

We’re fortunate enough to work with a number of faith-based hospital systems. I find it profoundly moving when they begin a day or a meal with a prayer for wisdom and humility.

I’m sure you can cite many more examples. Enduring excellence in sports, business and management, is based on bedrock principles (very much like the ones above), no?

The more you practice the easier – and harder it gets. Easier, because repetition develops muscle memory.   Harder, because we humans – or at least this one – are lazy, tricky and dishonest (especially with ourselves).

We think we can outfox the fundamentals, that we can ‘get away with it.’ The more success we experience, the more lazy, tricky and dishonest we tend to become. As a result, success corrupts, just as ‘power corrupts’.

Greatest senseis throughout the ages have adopted various countermeasures to our innate vulnerabilities. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, the world’s most powerful person then, meditated on death every day.  St. Jerome kept a human skull on his desk.

(My daughters, knowing my respect for the afore-mentioned, gave me a skull replica, which sits on my desk as I write, wearing my Green Bay Packers cap. Needless to say, I am no St. Jerome…)

Our Toyota senseis countermeasure was to check frequently and severely. “Target, actual, please explain!”  “Your activities have no meaning, Pascal-san!”  “This is NOT countermeasure!”

They were right, of course, and I felt like the village idiot for a long time. Good thing too – how else could I unlearn the rubbish I’d learned engineering and business school?

(Don’t want to be misunderstood – I learned plenty of good stuff in professional schools too. But often it’s mixed in with rubbish, no?

In summary, Lean fundamentals are really life fundamentals – simultaneously easy & hard. Seek them out, practice and keep going.  Very good things will happen.

Then, remembering Marcus Aurelius and St. Jerome, double-down on humility.

Best regards,


In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

“Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”
Building Quality into the Process
Standardized Work for Knowledge Workers
Difference between Hansei and a Post-mortem

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