Why I don’t like Lean houses, except one

Chris HOHMANN

Chris HOHMANN – Author

I never liked the (Toyota inspired) Lean houses and their many variants. First all these models are generally understood as prescriptive rather than descriptive, thus those new to Lean tend to adopt and copy one model without necessarily understanding its real meaning.

The building blocks of Lean houses are principles, methods and tools, reinforcing the feeling that it’s all about “techniques”.

The house building metaphor also suggests a beginning with sound foundations, robust pillars and when the roof is atop, the organization is done.

We’ll see later it is not in this way.

To add to the confusion, with the broad choice of variants, which is the right one to look at?

The answer should be “the one fitting your purpose, the one you define and build yourself”. But model seekers look for ready-to-use templates, not concepts. So the large choice of variants is more puzzling than guiding. And another bad news: genuine Lean transformation does not come as instant pudding (tribute to W.E. Deming’s quote).

I kept ignoring those houses until I saw John Shook’s new interpretation of the Lean House.

In this model, called the Lean transformation model, there is no prescription, only five questions corresponding to the roof, the pillars, the center and the foundations.

It strangely starts with the roof, because this is what you’re striving for, your Goal. All you will build is done in order to achieve your Goal, the purpose of the organisation.

The first pillar is process improvement and it answers the question about how to change current condition in order for the purpose to become true, how the change has to be conducted?

The second pillar is about capability development, answering the question about how to give people the means and know-how to conduct the change?

Both pillars are necessary for continuous improvement. No point kaizen, kaizen events and the like, real continuous improvement through experimenting and learning to solve problems.

In the center of the house, a character represents management and leadership behaviors and the question is: what management and leadership behaviors do you need in order to make the change happen?

The foundation is made of mindset, the basic beliefs and assumptions. Not the current ones but the new mindset, the basic beliefs and assumptions necessary to make the change happen.

For more details about this model, you may read my other post and watch the embedded video.

What I like with this model is the fact it is really generic: the 5 questions apply to any kind of organization. Furthermore, asking questions leads to build a specific house, a model designed for your purpose and not someone else’s model.

Another reason why I like this model is its convergence with the Logical Thinking Process. When I hear John Shook presenting his model, I “see” a Goal Tree and a Future Reality Tree, bridging Lean and Theory of Constraints. For more about this, read my post: Lean transformation model as TP trees


Read Michel Baudin’s answer to this post: http://michelbaudin.com/2016/09/02/why-i-dont-like-lean-houses-except-one-christian-hohmann-linkedin-pulse/


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What is a gemba walk?

A gemba walk is paying a visit to the “real place”, “where it happens”, the gemba. This visit is a critical one, as the visitor wants to make his mind about a problem, about the way things are done or in a broader sense, to check if it is possible to walk the talk.

In a Jan 9, 2014 industryweek blog post, Bill Wilder explains gemba as:

In short, it’s the place that matters most. It could be a crime scene: In Poe’s The Tell-tale Heart, gemba is that heart thumping under the floorboards. In sports, it’s wherever the ball is. In business, it’s the place where real value is created, the place where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. In other words, gemba is the beating heart of your organization.
http://www.industryweek.com/blog/gemba-walk

How does Jim Womack define what is Gemba? / what is a Sensei?

The gemba walk is a management practice to grasp the situation before taking action. Jim Womack

Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect

John Shook, CEO of Lean Enterprise Institute in a Jun 22, 2011 industryweek blog post explains quite extensively what a gemba walk is, summarizing it in this mantra: Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect.

You may read the post here: http://www.industryweek.com/workforce/how-go-gemba?page=1
Alternate source: http://www.lean.org/shook/displayobject.cfm?o=1843

About me

In short and from my point of view, Go See is a way to check if what is done is contributing to the organization’s goal / purpose, well aligned and if the processes don’t waste resources. Deviations are opportunities to improve but may be disqualifiers in case of client’s audit. A gemba walk is a kind of Lean assessment. Such a walk can reveal much about Lean maturity, discipline, culture, performance and consistency with alleged policy, hence the question: can we walk the talk?
A gemba walk can reveal improvement opportunities, especially when seeing some kind of waste (Muda, Mura or Muri) or give important clues about a problem.

Ask why is meant to validate your assumptions and understanding when observing processes during the walk. Those who know best why something is done in this strange or efficient manner are people contributing to this process. The way of asking matters, the recommendation is not to push own opinion or conclusion but truly ask why and listen carefully to the answer. Ask why in the right way is also an inductor for people to discover the waste or uselessness of some task and letting them the opportunity to propose an improvement.

Showing respect starts with good behavior but it’s more than saying hello. Stick to the rules like wearing safety shoes and helmet where required, keep on walking where allowed, don’t touch material and parts…
Showing respect is also considering that even the most humble person involved in operations is a subject matter expert of sorts, knowing his/her job and all ins and outs far better than the gemba walker. Showing respect is giving this kind of person opportunity to express his/her analysis and ideas about actual situation and possible improvements.

Furthermore, these people are doing the work, creating value and contributing to organization’s purpose.

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Related: What is Gemba?

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Lean transformation model as TP trees

The only “lean house” I like is LEI’s Lean transformation model presented by John Shook. Unlike other houses or “temples”, this one does not suggest a generic template to be copied but a framework to define one’s own Lean transformation.

When I first listened to John Shook’s explanations, I “saw” Theory of ConstraintsLogical Thinking Processes (TP) Trees behind them. Especially a Goal Tree which describes all Necessary Conditions to fulfill in order to achieve the Goal.

Transforming an organization the Lean Way is the Goal. In order to achieve this Goal, John Shook lists 5 Critical Success Factors, five high-end outcome without which there is no way to achieve the Goal:

Each Critical Success Factor is dependent on underlying Necessary Conditions. The logical relationship between entities is base on necessity and it reads “in order to… we must…”.

John Shook gives the first layers of rather generic ones. From then on, in order to customize the Lean transformation (and the Goal Tree), the Necessary Conditions must be farther broken down.


The Logical Thinking Process provides one other tool which I “saw” in John Shook’s presentation: a Future Reality Tree. In this tree, the logical relationship between entities is not based on necessity (in order… we must…) but on sufficiency or cause-effect (if A exists then B exists).

Unlike a Goal Tree starting from the top, the Future Reality Tree reading starts from its bottom.

It reads like this:

  • IF Lean culture is our foundation AND IF we have supporting leadership behavior as well as management system THEN we develop people capabilities.
  • IF we develop people capabilities AND IF we have supporting leadership behavior as well as management system THEN we have continuous improvement.
  • IF we have continuous improvement AND IF we have a True North THEN we have a Lean transformation.

The Lean transformation Goal Tree is a way to explore all Necessary Conditions to achieve it, while a Lean Transformation Future Reality Tree is more a logical demonstration of how if will happen.


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Lean Transformation Model by John Shook

John Shook, Chairman and CEO of Lean Enterprise Institute, explains LEI’s Lean Transformation Model. Mr Shooks take the Lean (Toyota inspired) house as a base for the explanation. This house or temple has many variants and is variously (mis)understood. While drawing the house on a whiteboard, John Shooks gives explanation in a very simple and straightforward manner.

While explaining the Toyota Production System house is often misunderstood as a prescriptive model, he suggests that regardless of the construction itself, each system that is described as a house needs the same components: solid foundations and pillars to support the roof.

Paradoxically, the construction should start with the roof, because on the gable the purpose statement or true north will be carved in. Like ancient temple tympanum telling a story to visitors, the statement give sense to the whole, it explains why the house, what for, or like the ToC thinkers would state it; what to change to?

ToC stands for Theory of Constraints.

For the roof to be seen and the house to be able to host people, the roof must be placed atop pillars.

The first pillar is process improvement, how to change current condition in order for the purpose to become true, how the change has to be conducted. The second pillar is capability development, meaning giving people the means and know-how to conduct the change. Both pillars are necessary for continuous improvement.

In the house, a character represents management and leadership behaviors.

The foundation is made of mindset, the basic beliefs and assumptions.

A successful transformation needs all five components: roof, two pillars, people, and foundation. Even at a moment the focus may be more on one particular components, all are needed to keep the transformation in balance.

Once the house drawn and explanation given, John Shook revisit it all asking five questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the change–what true north and value are we providing, or simply: what problem are we trying to solve?
  2. How are we improving the actual work?
  3. How are we building capability?
  4. What leadership behaviors and management systems are required to support this new way of working?
  5. What basic thinking, mindset, or assumptions comprise the existing culture, and are we driving this transformation?

You may be interested to read why I Why I don’t like Lean houses, except this one and Lean transformation model as TP trees

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