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.”
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