Home > Knowledge Center> In your opinion, is lean thinking a common sense way of working or is it counterintuitive? What makes you think that?

In your opinion, is lean thinking a common sense way of working or is it counterintuitive? What makes you think that?

5/29/2013

Here are all the submissions to the community sound off question: "In your opinion, is lean thinking a common sense way of working or is it counterintuitive? What makes you think that?"

"It's common sense, which is sometimes counter intuitive! E.g. single piece flow"

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"Great question? Lean seeks to develop common approach and business sense."

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"Agree with Adam; depends on the situation. Certainly, common sense to people once we help them see the trees through the forest. For example, I'm always amazed how many groups find simple process mapping that leads to "seeing waste" an eye opening activity - it was just sticky notes on a wall! However we don't take the time to see the picture together. In other cases lean thinking is counterintuitive. As product supply leaders and mill managers have been judged on rate of operation as a metric rather than production conformance (as an example), it is hard to see the importance of what metric truly drives value creation by exposing waste through variation. "Fixed cost absorption" by making more faster is never true value, but stopping the line to fix root causes and at the end of the day is inherently the best immediate result, but also better long-term investment of time and resources. Objectives drive behaviors ..."

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"It's uncommon sense."

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"It's common sense. I've spoken to a few older retirees that ran very successful businesses. They were using most of the same principles 50 years ago. One guy was making house trusses. He was surprised "good business" had a different name now."

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"It's not common. Many people's instinct are to create/maintain waste to protect their job or build walls to hide the inefficiencies that if exposed would require them to take significant action. Others love to do lots of kaizens that radically change lots of processes without having to spend the time and patience to come to a full understanding, then walk away and don't want to be bothered with the boring sustaining and continuous Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) discipline. Its the uncommon sensible people who value lean as a methodology that exposes problems and forces you to not only deal with them but create and monitor systems to ensure that the fixes stay in place. If the process changes and the waste morphs into other forms, they return to PDCA, no matter how frustrating it may be. Too many Lean "experts" think lots of running around and sweating during a Kaizen and then moving on to the next one is the key to success. Lean is logical and sensible, but it requires a focus on quality, integrity, dedication, and patience. This combination of attributes is far from common."

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" Absolutely common sense all the way. Some people don't see that initially but once you show them the intuitiveness of the thinking they generally jump on board."

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"Common sense"

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"Common sense all the way."

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"As always it depends on what you are looking at. It's counterintuitive to most, when it is better to slow the line down so you don't produce more defects. Most people think I need more units because of the scap/defects so I speed the line up to get more units. This covers up problems and produces even more problems. It's common sense in other facets, such as eliminating fluctuation from an operators job, which helps make their job easier and makes them more efficient."

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"I guess my answer would have to be, both.  Ever since I first learned about lean thinking, principles, and tools, even prior to applying them widely, they just seemed to make logical sense to me.  Don't make more than you need.  Don't pass on defects to the next level down the line.  Solve problems to the point where you never have to solve them again.  I think all of these principles are very hard to argue with, and therefore I would think most people would agree that they are connected to the words 'common sense'.

In addition, I would say that the way lean thinking and tools are taught helps give structure to common sense.  Just as I would say if you don't have a process map that you use to show how work gets done, a new person coming in might wonder, what do I do?  Well, go talk with this person and learn how they do that step.  Or maybe that person.  Maybe you learn two different ways to do it, pick your favorite.  The learning curve is simply shorter when you have structure to teach people from (and problem solve against!)  Asking people to "apply common sense" without structure, is the same as sending them off to random people to understand "what does applying common sense mean?"  And you may get different answers from different people.

Now, at the beginning I said I thought it was both common sense and counterintuitive.  I think the latter is related to the fact that so many organizations have evolved, and been successful to a point, and built their cultures without common sense.  It doesn't mean they haven't done great things over the years, launched great products, changed lives for people and employees.  It just means that they haven't always done it with efficiency in mind, or long-term sustainability in mind.  So, changing course, changing mindsets, changing the way you do work and look at work... is inherently counterintuitive.  I think that's what change means, something different than the way you think or behave or do today.

So the value of the question maybe isn't the words you would use to describe lean thinking, the value is perhaps in discussing "why might thinking in a counterintuitive manner be perceived as negative?"- Patrick Downey

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"If lean were common sense, we'd see more real Lean Thinking in practice. It might seem like common sense. In hindsight. once you learn to see with new eyes, but calling it common sense insults those who don't yet see things a new way. Who likes to be told they don't have common sense? Doing so is not a good strategy for engaging others and bringing them along with you. "- Mark Graban

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"If lean were common sense, we'd see more real Lean Thinking in practice. It might seem like common sense. In hindsight. once you learn to see with new eyes, but calling it common sense insults those who don't yet see things a new way. Who likes to be told they don't have common sense? Doing so is not a good strategy for engaging others and bringing them along with you."

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"A good question, since obviously a lot of people just don't do lean even if they understand what lean is.The first question should be "what is common sense?" For some reasons to be better explained by psychologists we are used to seek immediate solutions, and the approaches we use to find these are typically based on habits. I think in many cases we do not really act intuitive, we act on habits. And especially when it comes to business and operational routines we are additionally driven by time pressure, contradicting targets and business needs.

But, whenever I explain to others the ideas behind lean, usually in an informal meeting without time pressure, I can see the spakles in their eyes -- they all get the idea, so it cannot be completely not common sense. Additionally I see a lot of things going on around me that can be seen as very, very basic lean (housekeeping or 5S, production balancing or heijunka, problem solving PDCA-style) - so it looks like some kind of lean still exist in our common sense. But at some point in time all of these good sprouts are immediately dying and are replaced by immediate solutions. It seems the people lose their patience and want to jump to the results, without really understanding the problem.

This being said, it looks like Lean is common sense and intuitive as long as the people are allowed and motivated to spend their time, and as long as they contain themselves to stick to their intuition.

For me this is the biggest achievement of the Toyota production system - creating an operational system, where the contradiction between habits (standards) and creativity (PDCA-kata) is no contradiction any more, and where the common sense is to use your intuition the right way." - Arthur Schreiber

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"I think improvement is intuitive to most people, but the fact that an individual's improvement may work against the bigger system (sub optimization) is counter intuitive (adding more setups and getting away from batching). That was the hardest concept for me to understand, but once you figure that out, it all starts to make sense."

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"Based on many years of management experience, most people perform the work given them with little to no thought of the inputs and outputs, and problems are "solved" without finding or understanding the root cause.  I would have to say lean thinking is generally counterintuitive to most peoples traditional working style." - Todd Whipple

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"It's counterintuitive.  It's subtle and hard to explain why I think this.  When the job method designer is also the one doing the task, then it feels more productive to do things in a batch mode.  Even when a lean practitioner measures the productivity on only one workstation, locally it is more productive to batch.  Since so many jobs in industry are or were at one time designed by the person doing the task without understanding the impact up and down the value stream, the work methods designed are the ones that make a local work center most productive, or generally in batches.  Thus, without a Value Stream perspective, it just feels right to get a machine or other local process into its continuous operation mode (all "set up to go") and leave it there as long as it will run (tool stoppage, etc.)." - Roger Goodwin

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"Lean thinking is a common sense way of working and doing things. Kaizen, standard work, 5S, PDSA are some of its simple tools.  When you think about 5S and standard work I feel that was how my grandmothers, mothet, and sisters did their work every day. When,the business got bigger and used big management objectives the everyday activity or standard work which needed  to be done consistently without any break got misplaced and camoflouged with other activities.Change in leadershipquite often also broke the trust in the work environment. Plan, Do, Study and Act will work any environment." - Raji Bala

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"Yes, it is common sense in that it strives for long term goals.

However, it suffers from several problems in deployment.

The first is that common sense, isn't that common as you will find many people have struggled to incorporate bad or even dangerous ideas on how to accomplish things within most organizations and it warps their perceptions.

Next is the short term goals that many companies are driven too which are often in direct opposition to goals of long term stability, growth, and continuous improvement.

Then there is the warping of ones view to fit the situation. This is somewhat of a survival skill/evolutionary necessity. It is why it is necessary for everyone to go out and see how others do stuff. Otherwise one becomes desensitized to the pain and issues within their organization.

Finally, it takes time, it is slow and steady, and not flashy. These things are to the detriment of a manager or consultant trying to implement it, but are inherent in the way that lean improves an organization and is in alignment with almost all the basic wise sayings most parents would tell their children when growing up. Including but not limited to "clean up your room". - Collin Mead

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" It's common sense. Too often people make it more difficult and complicated than it actually is. Lean thinking is about three things:

1) Learning

2) Teaching

3) Doing

I have heard one of my Sensei's say on many occations "When you are coming up with ideas, think like a 12-year- old"." - Ken Hunt

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"Lean is definately common sense (It is difficult to say that you're against customer needs).The lean tools especially help you to get things structured, to have an overview, and draw the right conclusions. Let's say that they organise the common sense, they make things easier for us to set priorities, on what to work on next." - Jurgen Troch

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"I believe that it is common sense to a True Lean Thinker. This person can look at the surrounding processes and see non-value added activity." - Gary

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"I believe lean thinking is not something that happens naturally, until it's absolutely necessary.  Too often, people get complacent and don't think to ask "why?" enough.  Lean thinking is the first step toward change, and that's a very scary thing for most people.  This is why a strong change agent is necessary to drive and support lean thinking." - Brian K

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" Lean thinking at first is counterintuitive because it is not what I was taught in school or experienced in the manufacturing environment.  After getting to know lean thinking and using it, it not only made sense it was a more natural way of thinking and operating.  Understanding the philosophy of flowing value to the customer and removing anything that gets in the way is simpler and more logical than trying to optimize waste." - Jeffrey Lillig

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"I think the concept of flow vs. batching is counter-intuitive.  Intuitively, it makes sense that if you group similar tasks together you can do them faster.  You can also have employees specialize in these tasks, which should make them more efficient at it.  Switching between tasks slows people down.  Common sense says batching is the way to go.  People batch things all the time in daily life: errands, laundry, dishwashing, etc.  I think that is why is takes effort to adapt to flow." - Fiona Lewis

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"I don't think lean is so much counter-intuitive as much as it is counter-cultural for many business environments. A significant impediment, in my mind, is the use of Japanese terms with nuanced definitions that make them difficult to grasp.

My experience has been that there are those who speak fluent "lean" and those who don't. Or who struggle. This creates communication issues that really don't need to exist.

Pulling the andon cord now, and going back to work." - Kirk Williamson

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"From my own personal experience, lean thinking is a mix of common sense, used with some perception and analysis.

For some processes these days, I find there are legislative or political blocks to plain common sense, so a mix of common sense with a check of does it affect anyone (a sort of due diligence) works quite well." - David Holland

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"I can only say that it really depends on the development and level of the people of an  organization. If an organization and/or it's people cannot cope with change and/or is very strict in how they do things, lean thinking can be very counter intuitive and problems or new things can only be dealt with, what is called and or seen as common sense [in this zeitgeist].

With the common sense[of now] there are things people can come up with that are very good; though what i notice is that long-term is not covered, just the things that are right in the face, and/or the big problems at hand. With lean thinking people are pressed to think about doing things for the long term and also make adjustments as such. 

In my experience people do not want to think about these things too long, even SCRUM is just something people do obliviously at the moment, because it fits the bill for now, tomorrow it could be called 'squick' or something else, and or could become something of the past altogether; Though the real thought behind it will be kept alive i.e. lean thinking and flow, and that maybe be referred to as common sense 10 years from now, so in some way the zeitgeist depicts what is common sense way of working." - Kiran Atwaroe

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"During initial Lean implementation, in order to improve our culture we had to first go backwards by tearing apart our "typical system." Then we realized that we had to go in another direction to get to our goal of improving by utilizing lean tools to drive out waste and to sustain our systematic improvements. So I would say, at first, lean is counterintuitive until the culture is established, once the lean believers understand and embrace the culture it is a common sense thought of how the system needs to function." - Robert Jackson

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"Common Sense. 

Lean only becomes counterintuitive once silo thinking takes hold and directors, managers, supervisors and front line staff become concerned with departmental and individual targets.  For example: make the month leads to a false variation in demand as we ramp up to meet monthly sales targets. Production mangers target productivity ignoring the impact of overproduction on the whole. Purchasing departments, already dealing with demand variation and overproduction are also set targets on costs. This combined with an over-reliance on an expensive (therefore must use) MRP system results in discounted over ordering of stock on some items, and 'outs' on others.  Finally, front line staff often, with little protection from pushy bosses trying to make the month, will hide problems for fear of blame, much less actively look for problems (otherwise known as opportunities for improvement).  An ever decreasing circle of chasing targets and apportioning blame results.

So why is Lean common sense? 

There is 'company' where most of us apply lean, or common sense, on a daily basis.  Most of us refer to it as the 'household' or family.  We apply most of the Lean tools on a regular basis.  We clean (or 5S) on a weekly basis, have a place for everything and everything in its place. We store items close to point of use (cups next to the coffee pot or kettle).  We purchase raw materials in small batches (often with a cost penalty) because we recognise that we have limited storage space or indeed our tastes may change.  We may use a very basic MRP but most of us open our cupboards, look for the empty spaces (or kanbans) and replenish accordingly. We often create flow in our processing  - if the tumble drier is full we wait before starting another wash. After all we don't want to move around piles of soggy 'WIP'! Is this Lean or common sense? 

Of course there is conflict, and some households fail, however, one common feature of successful households is the ability to work together to acheive collective household or family 'goals' - there is a collective recognition of the primary objectives of the business of the household and individual desires may have to sometimes come second. 

As a final example, vacuuming the carpet or sweeping the yard is never(?) one of these goals, but a necessary activity required to achieve the common goals. So we are able to apply common sense (or lean thinking) to this activity.  We apply the minimum of effort with the minimum of resources, store materials close at hand and keep set up times to a minimum (SMED).  We use poke yoke.  We use routine (daily/weekly).  We may even contract it out, but in any event we will do it (or have it done for us) according to demand, not productivity - we use pull not push - this is lean! 

If anyone tells you Lean isn't common sense - tell them to go home!" - Steve Doyle

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"What exactly is counterintuitive?  We do most things from an intuitive basis in that it is our immediate response based upon experiential knowledge.  We have gained an experiential knowledge of processes based on early process management (Division of Labor - Smith; Labor Productivity - Taylor).  Lean uses aspects of all of the earlier process improvement methodologies so it is not simply counterintuitive.

However, let's say I was unencumbered by any of that thinking.  I would build something as I need it and that could lead to building a workstation, cell, plant, enterprise to allow for flow.  Unfortunately, there is nothing common about the tools that I will need to maintain flow, especially when dealing with the complexities of volume, mixed models, inventory control, changeover of equipment, to name but a few.  No these required scientific thought and development of single-piece flow support processes.  So lean is not just common sense." - Dave Scottow

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"If you are doing any activity that your customers wouldn't be willing to pay you for, then you are not lean. Lean is a common sense approach to all daily activities. Lean Activity = Value." - Jim York

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