Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Best Way to Teach People LEAN

As you navigate your way through the basic philosophies behind the Toyota Production System, you begin to realize that what can be said in a few seconds sometimes takes years to fully grasp. When that happens, a big bell goes off between your ears, sometimes while driving, and you GET it. This happened to me when trying to GET "respect for people"-what it really is, how you demonstrate it, and how you can sabotage it.

In this post, I would like to discuss another favorite, "LEARN by DOING".

As a lean consultant, I am probably leaving piles of money on the table because I don't spend much time at all teaching people how to build a lean strategy in a classroom or conference room with Power Point presentations. Don't get me wrong, I HAVE done it. In my own company. Imagine 50 or so people meeting in a conference room every week, learning about everything from  lean tools, Toyota History, six sigma, etc. These classes ran for one hour every week for 3 years! The positive outcomes include a group of people that knew what was important to me. Nobody could ever say that becoming a lean company was not important to Bill Greider. The other positive is that people became pretty good learners and also the fact that people were together thinking quite a bit.

We spent six months or so getting ready for "game day"-actually making changes in processes, using the lean tools.  When that happened, I realized something very important. When people do it, they get it. When there is a connection to them and to what they do, they get it. Did you ever hear the expression that 99% of the things we worry about never happen? Well, that applied to my first lean implementation. People would dig their feet in and argue about "what ifs" that never happened. They would find themselves having to vehemently defend positions they had taken. Remember that most of the concepts make no sense at all. For example, if you keep less, your customer will get what they want faster-huh?)

Once people started to consistently make improvements in their own processes all of this noise stopped. People who were on the fence bought in, some even becoming "lean beret". Because they saw it for themselves, with their own eyes. I didn't have to convince people by myself anymore.

My good friend and seasoned lean champion John Peterson of USSM (North Haven, CT) recently sent me a note about a book he is reading called Telling Ain’t Learning, (Harold D. Stolovitch & Erica J. Keeps).  The book explains that the problem is in the difference between declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge. "Typically a company will find someone who knows how to do something and asks them to teach others how to do it. The problem lies in the fact that the expert knows how to do (procedural) this thing, and now must try to tell (declarative) others how to do it. How do you tell your kid how to keep her balance when riding her new bike? How do you put that into words? In the end these type of skills are learned through experience, trial and error. By doing."

You should only spend a small amount of time talking about the theory of aerodynamics, balance and "bike riding". Dive in!



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