One of the most powerful aspects of Lean is that it teaches team members to view their processes through a new lens. It teaches us to understand and seek out waste and it requires us to question “why” things are done the way they are done. Whether it is at work or living my life I have learned to see waste and thus opportunities everywhere. One of my favorite experiences is when cross-functional teams come together and walk the process. It does not take long for them to start asking each other “why do you do that”, because “your team needs it”, “really we have been doing that for years”; “oohhh.”
Having the ability to see waste can also be a challenge, because it can quickly lead to frustration. The more opportunity you see the more you can become impatient with how quickly things change. While impatience can be a good thing it can also lead to bad behavior and bad outcomes. I have seen many leaders become frustrated with their teams, because they were not able to “see the opportunities” that the leader could see.
It is important to always take the mindset that things are how they are, it is not anybody’s fault, and now how can you help coach/teach others to see the waste and improve the process? Leaders have to realize that often for many years team members have worked very hard in often wasteful processes. Over time unnecessary work can seem to those doing it like very useful work. All of us confuse activity for value. The trick is teaching people, in a constructive way to step away from the process and to question the process.
Just last week I walked a process with a team where an administrative worker had been manually entering data to support a downstream process that ceased to exist over a year prior. The change had never made it back upstream and the activity was for nothing. This presented a great opportunity to redeploy this effort, but also presented a very sensitive situation. Nobody likes their work to be labeled waste nor do they want to do wasteful work. The leader did a wonderful job in handling the situation and ensuring that the outcome was constructive. Yet, they could have chosen to be frustrated or critical thus ensuring the future waste will remain undiscovered.
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