Who's on your teaching list?

X — Your office is incredibly quiet and peaceful. Don’t you have any angry customers or suppliers calling from time to time?

Me — I tend to visit Lean offices and workshops these days, so I can’t compare to your place, but apart from the machines’ noise most are indeed pretty focused on the job at hand.

X — You’ve got to tell me the secret: I’m desperate for a smooth and tranquil day at work.

Me — Sorry, but the secret is « there’s no secret ». Take a problem, try to get to the bottom of it with whoever can do something about it, rinse and repeat.

X — But I’m bombarded by calls and texts and emails from just about everybody in my company: it feels I have to be on top of everything all the time.

Me — So who is on your teaching list?

X — What do you mean? I’m no teacher. I’ve barely enough time to give directions or instructions when called upon.

Me — So why are they calling you, maybe you’re the one having a problem? If your goal is « having a smooth and tranquil day at work », surely receiving impromptu text messages all day long is a pretty big gap from this ideal scenario.

X — And you think teaching a few people there or here would help?

Me — You’re right maybe I was a little too presumptuous. Maybe you could start understanding a little more about who’s calling you most often. Is it the sales guy or the shop floor manager? The graphic designer or the accountant?

X — Well it’s definitely not the accountant: she’s on maternity leave and I have to fill up her job as well…

Me, joking — And I hope it’s not your banker! But more seriously who’s calling you the most?

X, frustrated — Hmm, I would have to check on my phone and it would take a little bit of precious time. Do you really think that’s the most pressing issue I should be addressing right now?

Me, shrugging — I don’t know. I’ve made my own choice for the kind of work environment I wanted years ago. But the Lean literature says you can or should start with angry customers and their complaints. And I have a feeling you most direct customers - your own team - are quite vocal…

X, irritated — But they’re not my customers, they’re my team! They should be working for me.

Me, whispering — I think I’ll keep the kanban cards at bay for the time being…

X — Sorry, I didn’t quite hear your last phrase.

Me, aloud — Remind me of visiting your customers' service if I ever get a chance to visit your office…

Building a problem-orientated culture

X — How do you know you’re working towards the right goal ? I’ve seen lots of companies building sand castles over the years.

Me — I guess you’re referring to the keep on aspect of Lean… Nobody wants to be caught driving towards a dead end.

X — Precisely : knowing when to start a project and when to stop it is always very difficult.

Me — In Lean, you’d start with « cleaning the glass » : small problems have been impeding your team for years, everyone is working around them, now is the time to tackle them. And the countermeasures that emerge shouldn’t be treated as « quick wins ». Quite the contrary, they’re just the fuel for the kaizen spirit.

X — But we have tons of problems and of all sizes, shouldn’t I be trying to solve the big ones instead ?

Me — You could also try climbing floors Parkour-style without taking the stairs and see if it works for you.

X — I see your point, but I fail to see why addressing random problems would be a strategic advantage.

Me — Because you’re not just fixing random stuff : you need to teach you teams to see problems, to understand them and to learn from them. And Lean is very specific on the type of problems that are worth investigating, always starting with quality. It’s also very explicit on the set of tools to visualize problems : Just-in-time (pull, takt, kanban, etc.) and Jidoka (andon, autonomation, poky-yoke, etc.).

X — But we don’t have a quality problem : our customers are usually happy. Otherwise we would have been out of business a long time ago !

Me — That was my line of thought as well. But a month ago, we realized we were missing 90% of our errors : a parameter changed and the notices, warnings and failures within a large part of our software was sent to a different log file, in a directory we were not supervising at all. It took us more than 5 years to notice it, happy as we were of not having too many problems. Overnight we were drowned in a 131-fold increase and it took us a couple of days to clean up this mess that went unnoticed for so long… Remember : having no problems is the biggest problem of all.

  • page
  • 1