Monthly Archive : February 2012
In my second life I am a writer. I think a great story can help us learn, understand, and find hope in even the impossible circumstance. On way to communicate is through metaphor, and as I reflect on work I’ve participated in of at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Group Health, and KVCH, I can’t help seeing the parallel in the hero’s journey and lean transformation of an organization.
The hardwork and dedication of the lean heroes at each of these organizations is the inspiration behind this blog posting. A brief aside: Several writing resources outline the hero’s journey, and to give this post context here is a brief description. “The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development. It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization.”
Following are the stages of unfolding for the lean hero on the road to change.
“THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma. Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.” In an organization, just as for the hero, this is where trouble is first felt. The burning platform may still be unknown, but there is a sense of danger and uncertainty of the future.
“THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.” This is the activation of the lean journey. It may be that our competition has just leapfrogged ahead with a new product, price, or delivery we cannot match. Whatever the case, the burning platform becomes visible to the organization, and a champion arises to confront the problem and begin the process of change.
“REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly. Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.”
Lean transformation encounters resistance on several planes. It can come from within, and may be denial, or reluctance that change is even possible given what seems to be insurmountable odds. Doubt may surface, and there may be conflicting paths under consideration other than lean.
“MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey.” Here the lean champion and followers seek knowledge and learning from other organizations that underwent the transformation. These sponsors may also seek the guidance of a sensei, or master, to offer close mentorship while on the path of lean.
“CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.” The special world in lean is future state and when the current state is left behind and the organization enters the realm of change.
“TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.”
This is where it gets really exciting…improvement work is initiated at all levels in the organization and confrontation with the current state (ordinary world) identifies challenges for lean sponsors to address.
“APPROACH. The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world. THE ORDEAL. Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life.” The approach and ordeal are significant moments where the leadership and tools of lean are put to the test, and the sponsors must make a decision to continue despite resistance and challenges to lean.
“THE REWARD. The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death. There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.” The fruits of transformation begin to be borne, but also the awareness for the necessity of continuous improvement to hold the gains. Leader standard work and frontline PCDA becomes a foundation of practice.
“THE ROAD BACK. The hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often there is clear signal that defines the urgency and danger of the mission. THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.”
Lean becomes the operational system of the organization, the practice of lean becomes deeper, and is accepted as the routine
“RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.” The champion always continues the journey in the lean world, and shares that the elixir is not something magical that instantly cures all, but is an operationalized way of thinking that allows challenges to convention and experimentation leading to improvement. Along with some plain ‘ol hard work with the will to execute.
A special thanks to the Writer’s Resource which gives an excellent description of the hero’s journey. Text in quotes above were adapted from this source.
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