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Reflections on the 2017 Lean Transformation Summit

by Cameron Ford
March 16, 2017

Reflections on the 2017 Lean Transformation Summit

by Cameron Ford
March 16, 2017 | Comments (0)

Another Summit has come and gone, and what an impression it made! Amidst the countless learnings that I gained from networking and attending learning sessions at the 2017 Lean Transformation Summit in Carlsbad, Cali., there was a slightly different underlying theme that truly struck home with me. The Summit’s main theme of “Managing to Create Problem Solvers” conjures up images of full-blown, organization-wide management systems, and that was indeed a common subject. There was Dan Humphreys’s description of Toys R Us’s three-level “pyramid” system, Tracey and Ernie Richardson’s GTS6 + E3 = DNA equation for structuring problem-solving, and TaylorMade’s discussion of sustaining improvements across their company through A3 thinking, among others. Yet there was another message supporting the main theme, which I found woven into almost every presentation I attended: creating management systems that enable problem-solving starts with personal transformations. Here are some of the talks I attended and how they exemplified that message: 

1. NUMMI? More like “New Me!”

It seems appropriate to start this reflection off with a session all about reflection. In a presummit Lean Talk, Jose Ferro told us the story of how he lost 70 pounds in just under 6 months, all stemming from some self-reflection he did at the start of his transformation. The moral of the story? Every successful transformation – organizational or personal – starts with a deeply analytical self-reflection. Good advice for anyone who has felt the frustration of a transformation that proves largely fruitless, at least at first.

2. YOU are the problem solver – not your consultant

Consultants can serve a critical purpose in a lean transformation, supplying leaders and workers alike with invaluable insights and experience. Because of that, what do leaders do when they want to fix problems? They call a consultant to fix them. But the consultant can’t be the problem solver in a lean transformation. Why? Because the very nature of lean mandates that the LEADERS themselves need to be the problem solvers. “If the leaders don’t openly problem solve and instead leave it to the consultant, line leadership does not take credit for any improvements and you’ll find it very difficult to create a culture of problem solvers,” said Reich.

3. The best way to do MORE could be by doing NOTHING

How many times have we all heard leaders complain that they “don’t have time for lean” on top of their usual work? And if I may, how many times have you, my dear readers, heard yourself saying this very same thing? Imagine their reaction if the response back was, “Lean aside for now, you need to make some time in your schedule to do absolutely nothing.”

Every leader needs a free block of personal time devoted to meditation to improve their mindfulness, according to Amy Sandler and Mark Donovan. That was what they told a packed house in their Day 1 learning session, “Mindfulness: A great way to super-charge your lean thinking, practice and results.”

What really seemed to have people on the edge of their seats was the barrage of PowerPoint slides devoted to facts on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation in business. With 70 percent of leaders reporting themselves unable to concentrate during meetings, 47 reporting mind-wandering, and just 2 percent making time to improve personal productivity, there is certainly a niche to fill! Consider this about mindfulness as well:

 

The session included some personal journaling exercises with fellow attendees, as well as (of course) a meditation exercise led by Donovan. And because follow-through is so important, participants were given a “buddy contract” to sign with their journaling partners for later follow-up.

4. Enable problem solving by changing your leadership beliefs (and slaying a three-headed monster)

The two founders of Brazilian digital technologies company CI&T, Cesar Gon and Bruno Guicardi, presented the story of their lean transformation in the form of a chimera – a ferocious, fire-breathing beast in Greek mythology (and Harry Potter, if you will) with the head and body of a lion, a snake for a tail, and the head and neck of a goat protruding from its back. Gon and Guicardi unveiled a drawing of the chimera with each of its heads representing a different problem in their transformation:

  • Goat: Inefficiencies in their software factory
  • Lion: Challenges in their Agile studios
  • Snake: “Command and control” structure

They called these three challenges together “the Chimera Crisis” – because by some stories, the chimera can only be conquered by killing all three heads. But the snake (Command and control structure) in particular proved challenging, as it required a complete shift in mindset to enable the spread of lean. “Command and control” leadership is widely known as being counterproductive to lean due to its top-down, bureaucratic nature. Imagine the challenges in changing your leadership style from one where most of the authority rests with the higher-ups, to one where the power is distributed to the people. It was tough, but ultimately it was “a great journey of personal and professional growth,” they said.

5. You have to change your leadership style – even if it’s all you’ve ever known

In their plenary about bringing lean to the Scripps network of health centers, Alexie Nguyen and Cindy Steckel shared some aspects of their own personal lean transformations. One of the most powerful epiphanies was revealed when an audience member asked, “What was the biggest challenge for you personally?” After a moment of thinking, Nguyen replied, “The idea of small incremental improvements. In healthcare we fix everything – it’s not just one thing. The hardest transition for me was learning to do one thing at a time.”

Most, if not all, of us have felt the pressure to achieve fast, universal results across the organization, whether right off the bat or due to excitement from the first real results. But it doesn’t work that way in lean, does it? It’s a classic tale of realizing that lean goes against literally everything you’ve ever known about doing business – plus the personal mindset change that follows.

And when the end of the Summit rolled around and John Shook came onstage for his final keynote, his very last slide bore a strikingly powerful message on personal transformations:

Simple, but powerful. Just like lean itself.

And finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't credit the other source of all my takeaways from the Summit – all of our attendees who brought and shared their fascinating stories of challenges, successes, failures and more. Keep following the Lean Post over the next few months and beyond as these lean practitioners share their stories in turn with the wider lean community.

Thank you all who attended the Summit, whether virtually or in-person. We'll see you next year in Nashville, Tennessee!

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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