Communicating a concept or methodology in a manner that doesn’t offend the current status quo is likely the biggest challenge we face as lean practitioners and consultants. In all too many instances it seems that people are open to change as long as someone else is doing the changing.
To diffuse opposition and resistance to change, it is essential that everyone understands the concern or problem, the solution, inherent expectations, and consequences of remaining the same. Our objective then is to create a safe, non-threatening environment where new ideas and concepts can be explored without undermining the current infrastructure or the people and departments involved. There are a number of options available to do just that:
- I personally like to use analogies and stories to convey concepts or ideas that exemplify methods or processes that can be adapted to address a current situation, opportunity, or concern.
- This is ideal for sharing the company vision, top-level ideas, and philosophies that help to explain the overall strategic direction or mission under discussion or of concern.
- Stories and analogies create opportunities to expand our thinking processes and to look outside the immediate scope of our current business interests and circumstances.
- I also recommend targeted books and selected reading that allow individuals to learn and understand at their own pace. Classics books include “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox, “Velocity” by Dee Jacob, Suzan Bergland, and Jeff Cox , “Toyota Kata” by Mike Rother, and The High Velocity Edge by Steven Spear.
- Offering a list of recommended books for individual study is likely the least intrusive, however, participation cannot be assured and does not promote interaction among team members.
- The reader learns the thinking processes and solutions as developed by the authors.
- Formal classroom or in-house training may also be effective, however, it can be costly and is inherently exclusive to the participants. It is also difficult for non-participants to become as knowledgeable or proficient with the material without attending the course or training for themselves.
- Outside training is inherently more generic in nature due to the diverse range of companies and individuals that are represented in the class.
- In-house training can be more effective to address a specific concern, however, it’s true effectiveness is limited to the participants.
- The concepts and thinking processes are developed and conveyed as prescriptive solutions.
- Interactive simulations that allow teams to work together to solve problems or participate in non-invasive / non-intrusive tasks.
- Class sizes remain small, however, the process is repeatable across multiple classes.
- Concepts can be tested and developed without disrupting the “real world” processes.
- Simulations are accelerated models representing real-world conditions.
- Simulations can be conducted internally with limited resources and is easily duplicated.
- Unlike the other methods above, the “solution” evolves with the team’s experience.
Change is synonymous with improvement and must be embraced by employees at all levels of the organization. Change and improvements are also required to keep up with competitors and to avoid becoming obsolete. From another perspective, it is a simple matter of continued sustainability and survival. In this context, we recognize that businesses today are confronted with uncompromising pressures from:
- Customers expecting high quality products and services at competitive or reduced prices, and
- Internal and external influences that are driving operating costs ever higher. Some of these influences include increased taxes, rising utility costs such as electricity and fuel, increased wages and benefits, increased material costs, and volatile exchange rates.
An unfortunate and sad reality is that any realized cost savings or loss reductions are quickly absorbed by these ever-increasing costs of doing business. As a result, many of the “savings” do not find their way to the bottom line as most of us have been conditioned to expect. While many companies are quick to post “cost savings”, I am surprised at how few post the “cost increases” that negate or neutralize them.
Some manufacturers, such as automotive suppliers to the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s), are expected to offer reduced prices year over year regardless of the current economic climate. Unbelievably, “give backs” are expected for the full production life cycle of the vehicle and may even be extended to support service demand as well. In today’s global economy, parts suppliers to the automotive OEM’s risk losing their business to competitors – especially those in low-cost labour countries – if attempts are made to increase prices.
My experience suggests that the best approach to establish a need for change is to work directly with the leadership and individual teams to understand and document the “current state” without bias or judgement. Our primary interest is to identify and assess “what is” and “what is not” working as supported by observations and objective evidence as gathered by the team. To be very clear, this is not a desk audit. To understand what is really happening, an assessment can only be effective when it is conducted at the point of execution – the process itself.
We also need to understand the reasons why the current state exists as it does. Is it the culture, system, processes, resources, resourcefulness, training, methodologies, team dynamics, or some other internal or external influences? As a lean practitioner, I serve as a catalyst for change – helping leadership, teams, and individuals to see, learn, and appreciate for themselves what it means to be lean regarding culture, thinking, and best practices.
I believe that many lean initiatives fail for the simple reason that people have not been provided with a frame of reference or baseline (other than hearsay) that enables them to internalize what lean really means.
The last thing we want to do is abandon current practices without having a sense of confidence that what we plan to do “in practice” will actually work. Secondly, we want to ensure that everyone understands the concept without jeopardizing current operations in the process. As alluded to earlier, lean simulations allow us to do just that.
The main points of the article, “7 Benefits of Teaching Lean With Simulations“, as referenced earlier are summarized as follows:
- Simulations demonstrate lean principles in action,
- Games involve your audience,
- Games are perfect team building activities,
- Simulations are small and flexible,
- Games are confidence builders,
- Test real processes with simulations first,
- Give yourself a break.
Another benefit derived from simulations is that results are realized in a very short period of time due to the accelerated nature of the game. As is often the case, real-time implementations may require days or even weeks before their effects are can be observed and felt within the organization. Simulations can provide real world experiences without subjecting the company or the team to real world risks or consequences.
Finally, games allow participants to truly become involved in the process and present an opportunity to observe and assess team dynamics and individual strengths and weaknesses. A game is more than just an event. It is a memorable experience that involves all the senses, thinking processes, and emotions that engage the whole person. To this extent the participants can and will internalize the concepts. From this perspective, I say Game On …
Until Next Time – STAY lean!