Monday, November 04, 2002

George Koenigsaecker of Simpler Consulting describes nine ways that Lean doesn't make sense. His second point-counterpoint:

Fire fight today's problems vs. do root cause solution to stop the need to fire fight

In a Lean enviroment, the focus is on eliminating the emergencies and building a "quiet" workplace. Machines work properly; people work safely and steadily; materials appear when needed and in the amount needed; customers get what they ask for, quickly and without surprise.

For many of us, this sounds like a dream from some drug-enduced street philosopher of the late 60s. But George has seen it, I've seen it, many of you have seen it. Why is it so hard to get to?

  • We like being heroes. It feels good to swoop in and "save the day". Other's salute us and say nice things in company newsletters. As such, we are not often willing to give up our spandex superhero outfits.
  • Management reinforces heroism. Because it is so much part of our own nature, management is grateful for and recognizes the excellent fire-fighters amongst us. Since we don't have an appreciation for root-cause elimination, we don't even see it as being a better way. When's the last time you saw a big deal made over someone who is quietly effective because he/she preempts all the big fires?
  • We like loud over quiet, flashy over subtle. This is a corrolary to George's first point, of batch vs flow. Batch is big and visible. Flow is often invisible. It is cool to fight fires. No one notices when there are no fires to fight.
  • We don't know how to get to root cause. Perhaps this is the biggest problem. If we could do root cause analysis easily, could we do it better? Yes. Is it a habit which we could form? Hmmmmmm. I gotta say "Yes" to that question but it is a challenge.

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