A Lean journey is built upon relations

X — You seem to make a difference between Lean and Operational Excellence but I feel they’re the same thing : both tend to use Kanbans, Red bins, 5S and everything in between.

Me — I would argue the difference is not related to tools : as you’ve noticed, they tend to be the same. My feeling is the discrepancy emerges with the attitude of the « boss ». From my experience, bosses sending their teams to training will create - at best - an « Operational Excellence » culture. But when bosses start teaching their staff (because they’ve learned the path beforehand), you end up in a very different whereabouts : « Lean » is the concept I tend to use for such places.

X — But if you have the people doing the actual work using the same set of tools, surely it should be indistinguishable.

Me — It would be the case if bosses didn’t matter. Maybe being a boss means I’m biased, but I feel a management team can make or break such effort.

X — Obviously any bad boss can derail a company. But I wasn’t thinking about them… What difference do you see between a good boss teaching lean tools and a good boss sending his staff to lean workshops ? Surely there’re both doing OK.

Me — The team’s capacity to challenge assumptions. A key factor here is the boss going to the gemba to understand firsthand what’s going on. You can be fooled by numbers on a spreadsheet in the meeting room, it’s more difficult to not see clues when actively looking for them on the shop floor.

X — But I thought you were talking about the team’s capacity to challenge assumptions. A boss can always do that, from his office, from his team’s office or even from the warehouse if he went there.

Me — Off course, but for the team to challenge assumptions, you need two things : trust and proximity. And for both to emerge you need a boss going regularly to the Gemba. Everything is tied to the relations created there and then ! Otherwise they're just throwing bottles into the sea.

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