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Community Communication

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Lean thinking and practice is all about tackling problems – little ones, big ones, wicked ones, sticky ones, concrete ones, fuzzy ones. We tackle problems in order to make things better. How about the ever-present problem of… communication?

It may be true that there has never been an organization that didn't suffer from communication problems. And if that's true for organizations, what about communities? Surely we can make things better, tackling it as we would tackle any problem. So, as one countermeasure, this week we are launching The Lean Post.

Lean Communication

Communication – the act of sharing information – is a means of attaining shared understanding of current conditions, of ideal conditions, and the gap between them. From there, we can gain shared views of what we can do to work on the gap, to understand it better and through that make conditions better. That's what we call alignment.

Lean organizations covet this shared understanding, and we expend great effort and take extra time to attain it. In fact, many lean practices are, at their core, tools and methods that support alignment—such as:

  • Taking more time up front when embarking on new initiatives
  • Making information that needs to be shared (processes, protocols, measures, challenges, problems, gaps) as visible as possible
  • Seeing the A3 report as a job aid to communicate and establish alignment for teams to close gaps between current and target conditions
  • Using a value-stream map as a visual aid to generate shared views of current and future states
  • Deploying strategy (aka hoshin kanri) as a process that engages everyone in setting objectives, creating plans, and managing "plan versus actual" conditions
  • Seeking pull-based knowledge sharing. That is, rather than broadcasting everything, resulting in information overload for everyone, store valuable information so that it can be pulled as needed by those who need it
  • Applying 5S to information as well as physical properties to remove clutter (unneeded/wasteful information), organize the information that is needed, and maintain regularly so that information is available when needed.

All these are simply means of sharing so that, together, we can learn to make things better, collaboratively.

First and foremost – what are the facts?

At Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford in Palo Alto, CA, care providers and administrators huddle every day at exactly 10:30am. In just 15 minutes the team effectively and efficiently shares hospital-wide status of patient safety, occupancy, staffing, and patient flow delays. Quick hit items are dealt with right away and big issues are reviewed as well, on daily and weekly cadences. The team gets the facts, shares the facts, interprets (quickly!), decides, and acts on the facts.

Many of you know similar examples of good practice. And we all know too many examples of the opposite – communication patterns that inhibit alignment, shared understanding of the situation, and shared visions of target conditions. It's okay, of course, to disagree – healthy conflict is, well, healthy – but let's at least try to understand each other. Starting with the facts. And from there – from a shared view of what is really happening – we can interpret those facts. And, from there come opinions, ideas of what to do to make things better. (Note: dialogues or debates tend to be a lot more effective when we move from fact to interpretation to opinion rather than vice-versa. How do you see most conversations go?)

Frequent, consistent, reliable communication – small batches wins again!

Research suggests that, when it comes to influencing a population of humans (whether an organization full of them or a target market segment), frequency of communication is more important than perfection of the communication. This is a good example of never letting perfect be the enemy of better. Frequent, small batches prove yet again to be the most effective way to go.

If our organizations suffer from lack of shared understanding due partly to poor communication, surely the problem must be even more intractable when elevated from organization to community level. And if sharing small batches of information more frequently promotes understanding and supports enterprise transformation, surely the same might apply to our lean community. So…

A Community Huddle

We decided to create The Lean Post as one means of boosting communication within the community. We know that there is much going on among you that we know nothing about, an abundance of learning that could be shared among the community. And we know that you appreciate hearing the stories that we share from your fellow community members. If we at LEI learn from the relatively small number of you who we get to meet personally, I can only imagine how many stories there are to be told throughout the entire lean community. 

For example, it is well-known that a model line or model area approach is an effective and probably even necessary part of any organization transformation. We know that for your transformation to be successful, somewhere, somehow, you will need to develop a model area. But, we don't know what you are all learning from your model lines – heck, we don't even know how many of you even have a model area as part of your transformation. We don't know – you don't know – what our fellow community members are up to.

And the community is expanding. Adjacent communities are intersecting, colliding, and converging, which is as it should be. Long-time adjacent communities such as organizational learning, systems thinking, psychology, social sciences, and operations research collide with new communities such as Lean Startup and the "Maker" (small entrepreneurial manufacturing startups, often using low-capital technologies and low-risk business strategies) movements. A lot of activity going on, for sure - where there is activity there is learning? Hmm, it might be a stretch to say that, but, for sure, where there is activity there is opportunity for learning.  

The Lean Post

So, we came up with a simple collaborative countermeasure. A communications countermeasure. A space curated by LEI editors on lean.org for the community to share experiences and learning – short stories of successes and failures, ideas and lessons learned, complaints and kudos – that we will call The Lean Post. Take a look here at our first batch (!) of posts. I hope you check in and read regularly (new posts will be added a few times per week in the beginning, maybe more later, depending on you). I hope you will also comment on posts that you find interesting, useful, irritating, or otherwise thought-provoking (where else are you going to hear about lean and… Van Halen?). And I hope some of you will decide to share your experiences and thinking by submitting posts yourselves.

But, first, please take a look, please read, and please let me know what you think. Just like a good A3, or any communication platform, The Lean Post will become what you make of it.


John Shook
Chairman and CEO
Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc.

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