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How to Build Resilience Through Sustained Lean Practice

by Lean Leaper
August 31, 2020

How to Build Resilience Through Sustained Lean Practice

by Lean Leaper
August 31, 2020 | Comments (1)

Lean thrives when the individuals using this learning and improvement method leverage its power for long term growth. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins cites the cumulative and compounding impact of consistent growth as a flywheel, in which small actions produce sustained and spectacular results over time.

And key to that practice is the application of good old fashioned grit, gumption—also known as resilience. Indeed, the theme of the upcoming Virtual Lean Learning Experience is Building Resilience with Lean Thinking and Practice. Lean thinkers who will share insights on this perseverant quality call to mind many of the best thoughts shared over the years here at LEI about buidling in a stubborn mindfulness when tackling challenges.

Sustained success forces you not to relax but be ever more vigilant about backsliding, notes Aramisauto founder Nicolas Chartier in After Lean Progress, Fight the Challenges of Backsliding. “Once you have reached a good level of service you often come to believe that the system is now established and that there is no reason why it would backslide,” he notes. “And yet we have learned that even very small events can make the system backslide.”

His company discovered this challenge after managing to improve its flow of products to customers enabling the company to halve its lead time and reduce the delivery time. When faced with an internal request to reduce it further for the holiday season, Chartier and his team discovered that doing so without adequately preparing would damage their value proposition. Small variations at one end of the chain would lead to greater ones down the line. After more reflection the company resumed its original delivery window, and determined to pare this down in a thoughtful manner over time.

Developing grit has less to do with focusing on honing this quality directly and more to do with building in the habits and practices of improvement—a process that over time challenges you to bolster your gumption. As Josh Howell notes in Grit, PDCA, and Other Four-Letter Words:

“I’ve come to realize that the practices that embody PDCA (standardized work with kaizen, the A3 process, and more) provide means by which people can develop grit. If you involve PDCA in a disciplined and rigorous ongoing way (through mechanisms like daily huddles, hour-by-hour charts, and even Kanban to offer a few examples) then the abnormalities that are revealed will lead you to a sense of perseverance.”

This argument reinforces John Shook’s argument that lean practice seamlessly blends social and technical elements. In Is Your Technical Person a Technical Problem or a People Problem?, Shook cites the famed Five Why practice to show that in almost every case, “the technical solution is necessary but not sufficient.” There will always be a “social root to an apparent technical problem” to be uncovered, he says, ultimately concluding that work design must always “include the ‘human factors’ considerations that make it possible to do the job the right way, and even difficult to do it the wrong way.”

This is simply another way of saying that personal effort and the cultivation of an inquiring mind matter as much as learning the finest of technical tools. And that the quality of resilience may emerge from a disciplined cycle of framing improvement through a lens of improvement. No singular “tool” alone fosters progress, says Michael Balle notes in How Do I Keep My Team Motivated for the Long Term?: “Lean work presents challenges to our commonly held assumptions about motivation,” he notes, and shows how lean teams help foster right attitude among its members who “come together to solve problems jointly.” Doing so sustains “individual motivation, individual change, and collective change.”

All of which amplifies a simple point made by Mark Reich in The Hard Work of Making Hard Work Easier. “Many people hope for lean to be a quick solution that addresses all issues quickly and effectively with little effort,” he says, adding: “Smart organizations are realizing more and more that a deliberate and unrelenting effort is needed to look at hard work differently, to struggle to make and sustain changes, and then persevere to sustain those changes.”



LEI Virtual Lean Learning Experience

The Virtual Lean Learning Experience 2020 (VLX), hosted by the nonprofit Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), features a two-week immersion into LPPD principles and practices. The them of the overall event will be Building Resilience with Lean Thinking and Practice. Register and hear from the foremost practitioners and coaches how you can design your company's future with LPPD. For more information about:

*the VLX 2020 Designing the Future track

*participating in a FREE VLX 2020 session featuring Jim Womack and Jim Morgan

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1 Comment | Post a Comment
Evan Urban September 15, 2020

Hi Lean Leaper,

My name is Evan and I am a senior in college where I study Business, Computer Science, and Spanish. I am currently pursuing my Green Belt certification which led me to stumble upon your blog post here.

I find it interesting that you mentioned the compounding impact of consistent growth. I think that this emphasis is important because sometimes the small changes made on a day to day basis seem so miniscule it can be demoralizing. However, because of the power of compounding, just a small difference now could equate to a huge change in fifty years. When people put in sustained effort, even if for just a few minutes a day, the sooner and more vigorously they attack the challenge, the better the result will be.

From what I have seen, people generally do not understand the idea of “continuous.” To clarify, I feel that a lot of people expect the initial spike in workload when you flick the metaphorical “continuous improvement” switch to on, but then they think they do not have to do anything afterwards because some arbitrary amount of improvement is occurring. You highlight this in your inclusion of the quote from Nicolas Chartier, “Once you have reached a good level of service you often come to believe that the system is now established and that there is no reason why it would backslide.” This resonates with my beliefs and experiences as well as highlights the fact that continuous improvement should be habitual. Just like daily exercise or reading before bed, a small amount of effort, sustained every day for many days, is what makes the difference in the long run.

I also enjoyed your discussion regarding technical problems and people problems. I think that one of the major challenges in twenty-first century organizations is a disconnect between the businesspeople who understand the business but not the IT that supports it and the technical people who might understand the IT but know very little about the business. One of the key reasons I study both business and computer science is so that I can help to bridge the gap for my organization in the future.

Lastly, your talk of resilience was inspiring. So many people and organizations have had to be resilient this year during the trying times of a national pandemic, social unrest, overactive weather patterns, and an economic recession. These stimuli put strain everywhere by creating a lack of customers, a lack of suppliers, and a lack of employees that do the processing in between. I believe that being resilient is a key characteristic that determines long-term success. An organization needs to put forth a competitive advantage consistently, or else they will be beat out by competition and fade away into oblivion.

I have a few questions for you, if you don’t mind. You gave the example of how Lean Six Sigma can help keep a team motivated. What other examples of Lean Six Sigma benefits and applications can you offer? I was also hoping you could provide more examples of instances when the “social root to an apparent technical problem” was hidden, and how applying Lean Six Sigma helped unveil the root cause and create an efficiency improvement in the organization? Lastly, if you have any advice on how to develop resilience to achieve that long-term compounding growth effect mentioned earlier, I would be interested to hear as well.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge here on lean.org. I am looking forward to your response.



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