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Why Yoda Was Wrong

by Aaron Hunt
August 30, 2016

Why Yoda Was Wrong

by Aaron Hunt
August 30, 2016 | Comments (16)

Image courtesy StarWars.com

A few weeks ago Disney released a new trailer for the upcoming Star Wars movie “Rogue One.” Somehow it reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite characters in the series:

"Try not. Do....or do not. There is no try."
- Master Yoda, from George Lucas' Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

One of the most powerful words you can use while implementing lean is "try." It's important to set this expectation early. And it's just as important to understand that there is no rank, authority or stupid ideas when you're embracing kaizen. True kaizen is a process of trying small changes to understand how they affect the process. Ideally, they will all be improvements, but in reality not all "improvements" actually have a positive impact. But you must try them to understand why.

Several years ago at a previous job, my team was producing a product out of a copolymer plastic that required five machining steps, followed by laser marking, assembly, and final cleaning and packaging. Apparently, everyone “knew” that the plastic was unstable and required rest periods during the machining process to ensure dimensional accuracy in the final product. However, we still had quality problems and demand was increasing. One of our new engineers designed an experiment to test the machining variables of speed, feed, and depth of cut. He simply asked the machinists and experienced plastics engineers to try, even though they thought they already knew the best way to machine the copolymer. 

What the team learned that week was that they needed to treat it just the opposite of what we thought.  The plastic responded best to hard and fast processing, and when done properly it diverted most of the heat from the machining process into the chips instead of the remaining material. When we combined it with what we knew about annealing processes at our suppliers, we eventually reduced that machining process down to one machine, which completely changed our ability to deliver product reliably and quickly. Our total lead time dropped from 63 days to seven days, with the ability to turn rush orders in 24 hours. That ultimately made the product one of our most profitable lines, simply because we were willing to try something different.    

Even if other team members know that something won't work, it's often worth letting people try things so they can learn by doing. Sometimes it doesn't make sense to do this because the premise can be explained clearly and is easily understood once explained. Sometimes there are safety reasons. Safety always trumps productivity. But often, the simple act of trying and failing is a much more powerful teacher. So we must encourage our teams to try, and teach them that failing is not only acceptable but it is expected. We can learn from our failures just as well as we learn from our successes.

This process of trying and learning needs to be guided by your leaders. Changing speeds and feeds in machining or using a different sequence of steps in your standard work for assembly can have unintended consequences on the final quality of a product. Using new formats to track information for a project may make it difficult to reconcile with your current standard reporting. But there are ways to safely try almost anything. Maybe a small pilot run on an ECO or validation plan is needed, as in the above example. Maybe data needs to be maintained two different ways in parallel to evaluate the impact of the improvement while simultaneously mitigating risk. 

The initial improvements are never easy: "There's not enough time." "It takes extra labor. We can't afford the extra labor costs on this project." I could probably type all day on the "reasons" I hear as to why an improvement can't be tried. But they're really just excuses to hide behind. It reminds me of the saying by Thomas J. Smith: "Excuses are the tools of incompetence upon which monuments of nothingness are built. Those who use them seldom accomplish anything." My good friend Curtis first shared this saying with me years ago, and while there are many variations of this quote, they all say the same thing: stop complaining and do something! 

That first investment of time needs to be made to start the ball rolling. People need to try. If they already knew how to do something that would improve the process, they would do it. Faced with "Do...or do not," they will almost always chose to not take the chance, because they don't know what or specifically how to do "it."

So remember what Yoda should have said, set it as an expectation, and use it often: "Try. Just Try."

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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16 Comments | Post a Comment
Juan Campos August 30, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this comment

I couldn´t agree more with you Aaron. "Try it" is the best way to include someone in all about Kaizen. 

Great post, I will share it with my team.

Reply »

kevin kobett August 30, 2016

Great story.

One of my top five lean questions is, "What's the opposite of the current process?" It works remarkably well.

Reply »

Aaron August 31, 2016

Kevin,  

Thanks for sharing one of your favorite questions - I like that approach and haven't thought of it from that angle before.

 

 

Reply »

Lev Ono September 04, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

I like that question. It forces thinking out of the current mindset. 

Dominic Savant August 30, 2016

Great post! Try is what the Lean principle of Challenge is all about.

I will definitely share with my team.

Reply »

Patrick August 31, 2016
10 People AGREE with this comment

The quote in this instance is taken out of context to the original story. Lukes comment of "i'll try." combined with his tone and body language indicate its going to be a half hearted "try".

SO a half hearted try at the lean process will yield as it did in the movie a failure and very little lessons learned.

I would say technically using DO is the correct phrasing.

Reply »

Aaron August 31, 2016

Patrick,

 

Thanks for your response.  My thought is that if we get people to try, then they actually are doing something insetad of waiting to be certain somethign will work to do somethign.  Giving the permission or encouragement to try removes the outcome bias of success versus failure, and often serves to bias towards action.

 

Plus, Luke was a future Jedi Master.  He had the ability to be one with The Force, meaning he could connect directly to and become one with the X-wing fighter he was being asked to lift out of the Dagobah Swamp using The Force.  

Our daily lives and practice of Lean is outside of context to Star Wars, which is why I think the concept applies to us as non-Jedi's as we try to learn Lean principles.  Eventually the trying gives way to knowing, and we just start doing as part of our standardized work.    

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Mark Smeets August 31, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Thank you for using Star Wars, you sir are awesome!

I'd agree with Patrick in this case as far as the differences between do and try but really you're both saying the same thing and are in the same spirit.

I wonder what the article would look like if you replaced "try" with "do".

Try out the crazy ideas, failure or not, expected results or unexpected results however just DO the crazy ideas.

It is PDCA/SDCA after all, not TDCA :)

And May The Force Be With You

Reply »

Mark Smeets August 31, 2016

Actually PTCA not TDCA

although maybe Yoda would say it like that

Sean Cale September 01, 2016
2 People AGREE with this reply

I agree with Mark and Patrick.  Try gives the feeling of a taste test and if you dont like it you dont have to have it again, hence why so many companies look at Lean as "the next flavor of the month".  The emphasis on Do is that when implementing Lean 50% of efforts need to be with developing your people.  By creating a standard to Do something gives ownership and in turn engraves Lean methodoligy into the Culture.  I would refrain from using the word Try. 

Aaron September 01, 2016
2 People AGREE with this reply

Thanks for your comments, and Sean's too.  The concept of PDCA is critical and foundational to Lean - whether it's PDCA or PDSA, whether we use “Act” or “Adjust” as the “A”, whether we ask people to "try" as they get to the "D" in the process or whether we exhort them to "Just Do it", the key is that we are taking action.  

The beauty of Lean is that there is no one-size-fits all solution.   It's what has kept me so engaged over the last two decades of developing teams and growing organizations through the application of Lean tools.  It seems no day or week is ever the same.  

The sentiment of "May the Force be with You" is perhaps one of the most important things we can embrace as a Lean community.   Whether we are trying new things, or doing new things, we can all learn from each other and support each other.  What works in one organization, i.e. asking people to "try" may not work in another. 

 

Lev Ono September 04, 2016
2 People AGREE with this reply

Interesting debate. One of the things about lean is it's usually not this or that it's both. "Try" but not casually don't give up easily, give best effort as in "do" but don't let that make you afraid to "try". Anyway, P-D-C-A. All sides of the debate, Yoda and Aaron, are right: Plan/Propose then Do/Try then Check/Study then Act-Adjust. 

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Claire Everett September 05, 2016
2 People AGREE with this comment

I think it depends on your definition of try.  It has multiple meanings and uses, many people use it as experiment, trial, test etc. but it can also be used to mean 'putting in less than you best effort'.

 

In Yoda's case it's the second, 'try to pick up the pen', 'no, don't pick it up, just try to pick it up'.  In this case you either do pick up the pen or you don't pick up the pen, trying is really fluffing around and taking no real action, 'do or do not'.

 

In your case you're using try in the first sense where it means experiment etc.  When you say 'try it' you mean 'do the experiment' or 'do the test', 'do a test run', you don't mean try to run the experiment without actually doing it.

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Carey Burgess September 08, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Claire's comment is similar to what I know to be true. (And is, frankly, why I read this article - I disagree with the statement in the title.)

In a practical sense, it goes to intention.

Are you doing something with the intent to try to accomplish it, or are you doing something with the intent to accomplish it?

And this is separate from trying something (a.k.a. experimenting, testing, etc.).

So, don't perform an experiment (or take any action really) and set your expectations/objectives that you will merely try it, instead your goal should be that you will complete it.
Even if, in completing it, it turns out to be a failure (a.k.a. an opportunity to learn). If during the experiment you determine you need to stop early (or if funding gets pulled, or whatever other factor outside of your direct control that might come up and prevent you from completing the experiment), that is OK. Just don't set out with the objective of completing only a part of your experiment (or whatever action) - expect that you will complete it.

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Norm September 08, 2016

As a Plant Manager, I would encourage my staff and their teams to experiment under the following provisions - be safe, don't violate any contractual obligations and don't bring the whole complex down because you didn't think things through, plan adequately or talk it through with others. Once people caught on that they had some freedom to try new things, new ideas and improvements came fast and furious. So did learning lessons from failures but those only led to better attempts building on what was learned. Eliminating the fear of trying or experimenting, while still being responsible, was a huge culture shift.

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Ed Hutton September 20, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this comment

So true... "just try"!!!!

Reply »

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