I got a chance to take advantage of summer last week and heading back to the east coast for a family reunion. I have a large family with a lot of diversity, from all parts of the country working in all types of industries. Really smart people which meant a lot of good conversations and debates. Thus I had a chance to spend a lot of nights drinking beer and sharing stories. And boy did I get a chance to give a half dozen different versions of a Lean elevator pitch. Almost everyone I talked with asked me what it is that I do. I never realized how hard it would be to explain Lean to a group of smart folks that have never heard of it.
Each of the conversations went something like this:
I tried to desribe to them that it is my job to support leaders in the improvement of the management processes of the organization and got back blank stares. I then talked about my coaching work with executives and when asked what I coach them on I often was stuck with saying “almost everything.” Once again blank stares. Then I would talk about my work to realign the organization around it value streams and realized I was really losing them. I would finally give up tell them that it was my job to help leaders improve their processes through the application of quality improvement tools, which I would often get a reply back of “oh yeah, we did that at my company, but it never really worked.”
I am wondering if other Lean practitioners have had a similar challenge in discribing what they do? Why is it so hard to explain what we do?
The learnings and principles of Lean are so broad that they cut across everything that an organization does. The thinking runs so counter to what people have been taught that trying to explain it is close to impossible in a single sitting. This is why love working in Lean, it is so broad and comprehensive that the learning will never be complete. It takes years just to master a small part of what there is to know. After several failed attempts at an explanation to family members it was easy for me to describe a couple of tools and pass it off as what I do for a living. This was really unfullfilling to do. I felt like I was selling myself short, and selling Lean short. I spend a lot of time teaching leaders that lean is not just about tools, but I am quick to tell my family just the opposite. An interesting challenge I don’t have an answer for.
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