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Lean Frees Improvement

Lean releases creativity and improvement forces

Force field analysis is a fantastic change management tool. It also beautifully encapsulates the difference between Lean and traditional improvement approaches.

A force field analysis diagram looks like this:

force field analysis encapsulates the Lean approach

Force field analysis is useful whenever you want to improve performance or change behavior, for example yield, cycle time, infection rate, recovery time, sales, morale, responsiveness.

All change efforts are subject to driving forces and restraining forces. Driving forces push the current system to change for the better and restraining forces resist these efforts.

Force field analysis engages teams of people affected by a specific change to list, discuss and assess the relative strengths of these two sets of forces.

More Brute Force

Traditional improvement efforts rely heavily, if not exclusively, on applying driving forces. In fact, the bigger the desired improvement, the more forces are brought to bear. Typical driving forces are:

  • Mission and vision statements
  • Goals and quotas
  • Contests and incentives
  • New policies and procedures
  • Performance management

The assumption is that the current system is capable of delivering more results if people are driven harder by rewards and fear. This is the complete opposite of Lean.

While focusing on driving forces can yield results in the short term, it runs out of gas quickly. Pushed to an extreme, it has disastrous consequences. Think Volkswagen and Wells Fargo. Employees there met goals by doing illegal and unethical activities that severely damaged the company’s brand and cost millions, even billions, in fines and penalties.

Remove Restraining Forces

Lean assumes that people want to improve and succeed and are held back by system forces beyond their control. Typical restraining forces are:

  • Insufficient resources
  • Unclear requirements
  • Traditions and assumptions
  • Competing goals and incentives
  • Ignorance and misunderstanding
  • Out-dated policies and procedures
  • Inefficient organizational structure
  • Obsolete technology and methods

Lean thinking and tools focus on identifying and eliminating these restraining forces. For example,

  • value stream mapping uncovers inefficient organizational structure and outdated procedures
  • standard work clarifies requirements and improves communication
  • customer focus uncovers erroneous assumptions and competing goals and incentives
  • visual management and gemba walks reduce ignorance and misunderstandings

Big, Hairy Goals

The real benefit of throwing out big, hairy goals, for example ‘Reduce errors by 80% in 2017’, is to identify the restraining forces that make it “Impossible!”

Big, hairy goals should provoke people to say things like ‘That’s crazy! We’d have to completely change X, Y and Z.’ AHA! Constraints identified. Then, it’s management’s job to make changes to X, Y and Z possible.

Setting a big, hairy goal and just hoping people accomplish it can be demotivating or, as we saw at Volkswagen and Wells Fargo, disastrous.

Learning and Training Aren’t Enough

While training and learning remove certain restraining forces, they’re insufficient to accomplish real change.

Knowledge is a small component of any improvement effort. Knowing a better way to do something doesn’t mean someone can actually do it in their workplace. This is why so many change efforts based on ground-up training die a horrible, slow death. These efforts cast training as a driving force and as the old saying goes ‘You can’t push with a rope.’

What are you trying to improve today? How are you identifying and removing restraining forces? Are you solely relying on driving forces, in particular training, to make it happen?

Let’s Ride

Todd Hudson, Head Maverick


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