#Lean doesn’t scale according to @Michael_Balle. I disagree (a bit) #leanenfrance29
In one of his clarifications given during the conference, Michael Ballé said that “Lean doesn’t scale” despite us (consultants, whether internal or external, or CEOs) repeatedly looking for rapid scaling of the results.
It’s unusual, but today, I felt like I have to disagree. A bit.
Of course, solutions don’t scale. They’ve been grown by the people of a specific place (gemba), for that place and for that very same people. Every context is different, be it, of course, another company or another service in your own company. Taiichi Ohno himself is said to having had to struggle a lot each time he went from one line to another (we’re different, it doesn’t apply to use, it can’t work here, etc.)
So, can the Lean tools scale and replicate? Well, yes and no.
- Can they replicate? Surely and it’s been written in numerous books. It’s probably also part of the problem why Lean struggles that much to enter in new companies: because people try to replicate the tools (for the solutions they bring) as detailed in the book. But replicating the tools doesn’t guarantee replication of the results, for you’ll surely fail to develop the people while trying to enforce the tools. It’s not about the tools (or worse, their results), it’s about the people (or better, the thinking process in the people’s heads).
- Can they scale? Well, we’ve seen Lean tools be used in other places than the shop floor, like in offices or in the board in order to develop and follow a strategy (think Strategic A3, problem solving A3s, etc.) which can have a leveraging effect (after all, the hierarchical pyramid exists precisely for this in the first place: to leverage the impact of the (wo)man at the top). Does it mean they can replicate the results from one division to the others in a snap? Of course not. To keep with the A3 example, what’s important in the A3 is not the paper, it’s the thinking process that’s behind it. And if you can transmit information, you can’t transmit knowledge: that one has to be grown by each and every mind on its own, based on its personal experiences.
So, back to my title: does Lean scale?
If you mean swiftly replicating the tools from one place to another as if it were an identical place, hell no. No place is identical. Even two identical production lines are different, because they are operated by different people, using equipment with different levels of wearing, hence with different faults, breaks and problems (even if they’re similar).
But what you can replicate are the tools, not for the solutions they bring, but for the thinking patterns they’ve repeatedly proven to foster in those who use them properly (hint: keyword here). The trick is that, in Lean management, when the wise shows the moon, the fool looks at it! (S/he should look at the wise and understand why the moon is pointed at. Why the moon and not something else?)
So, how one does scale Lean? Obviously, by replicating the moon-pointing wise men, the senseï!
Lean is not about improving the results, nor is it about improving the process (which I thought up to recently). Lean is about improving the people that operate the process (remember the Toyota saying about “making things is making people or, in japanese, Mono tsukuri wa, hito tsukuri?). Indeed, this is what Michael reminded us about during that very conference. And probably in all previous ones as well.
And if you want to scale the “improving the people” part, you need to grow more coaches or senseïs able to foster Lean thinking in people. Which is precisely what Lean Coaching is all about (or Toyota Kata), starting at the CEO level coaching his subordinates, themselves coaching their own subordinates, up to shop floor collaborators.
So, of course, it’s a slow process. So if by “scaling Lean” you thought achieving quicker results by way of bypassing the “developing people” part (which is long), of course you can’t (well, you can on a short time frame, but as soon as the coach turns round the corner, performance withers).
But if by scaling you mean improving your impact onto the number of people you can develop in a time interval, then of course you can! But not shortly. Yet, it’s still more efficient and effective than (wrongly) replicating the tools and they quick results without having grown the accompanying mental model and having disappearing a few months or years later because nobody really understood what the real story was all about.
Originally published at Appreciating Systems.