Are You Really on a Lean Journey?

In 1872 Reno-based tailor Jacob Davis developed a method for reinforcing stress-points on pants, such as at pocket corners. He partnered with San Franciscan Levi Strauss to patent an “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings” in 1873.

The jeans Levi Strauss & Co. sold following the patent were worn by farmers, cattle ranchers and hands, factory workers, and miners largely working in the North American West. These customers were beneficiaries of a problem-solving and improvement mindset.

The Lean Journey

Lean aficionados tell anyone who listens that choosing to incorporate lean practices into their work is embarking on a “lean journey.” The reasoning is sound. As lean is in no small part a quest for continuous improvement lean practitioners are always moving, hopefully forward, as they seek ways to increase value for some customer. Lean enthusiasts expect listeners to be enthralled by a never-ending quest toward greater levels of efficiency and innovation.

As often happens, reason in this case fails where human reality prevails. Which brings us to Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss. Customers wanted a pair of pants that withstood the rigors of difficult physical work. No doubt customers appreciated that the riveted pocket jeans were tough, as symbolized by the Two Horse® logo later emblazoned on every pair of Levi jeans. Customers however were not on a “jean journey.” They had cattle to herd, crops to raise, products to manufacture, or ore to mine. Those endeavors were the focus of customers’ journeys.

Except that most people don’t want to be on a lean journey. They already have a journey that is important to them. While it is wonderful that coaches and consultants who are on a lean journey want to help by teaching lean practices, it is important to consider the following when helping others begin a sustainable lean transformation.

  1. What journey are they taking? They may phrase that journey as their purpose or mission.
  2. What is the impact they want to make with their project or organization? Understand the human side of their journey.
  3. What ‘language’ to they speak? Understand their language. Many people find the lean language to be full of jargon intended to impress rather than help. Rather than forcing people to comply with an uncomfortable and foreign vocabulary find a way to support their learning with a language familiar to them.
  4. What are you seeking to accomplish? Be clear about what impact you want to make when coaching others. First with yourself, and then with others.

Now that you are ready to discuss how your journey supports their journey they be much more inclined to listen.

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