Lean, Language, & Waste

{part of an email thread}

In part, Bill wrote in response to a LinkedIn/Facebook discussion... "We have to be open to new ideas, and new ways of doing things. Remember, RESISTANCE TO CHANGE (and all the effort that goes around it) is WASTE too!"

I know Bill did not intend his comment as a personal insult. However, everyone needs to think about how their words can have a devastating impact on others. Possibly contributing to the continued destruction of the individual as described in Dr. Deming book, The New Economics (pg. 122).

When WASTE is used as a vehicle to slam individuals, either directly or indirectly, the speaker is contributing to the tyranny of American style of management. Oppression (or dare I say domination) of the human spirit. And yes, this comment was a judgmental slam directed towards the individual.

WASTE is something that has no purpose and is discarded. Many people associate their work as a extension of themselves. In may situations, to discount an individual's work by calling it WASTE is to discount the individual as a person. 

LEAN is intended to be a more humane way to conduct business. A professional never discounts the work of others, or in this case their honest discussion. This is a perfect example of why I never identify people's work as WASTE.  Unnecessary work or cost, maybe, from the perspective of the worker, system or customer (however the customer is defined). However, it is cruel to imply a person's contribution to the organization is waste. A LEAN practitioner's job is to expose any incongruity between the intent of the activity and the value contribution of the activity itself. Not to judge, but to expose any disparity in a safe way. Then guide people in finding a resolution.

I get upset when I see people being treated with disrespect. Especially when using indirect and/or passive/aggressive techniques seen in this posting. The role of the professional is to help people, not to slam people. And especially not to pump up the self-important of the consultant by using 'insider' jargon.

So be careful of what you say and how your say it. The ramifications can be devastating and far reaching.

{second part of rant}

My rant was intended to go from the specific (Bill’s comment) to the general (LEAN language usage).  I wanted to use the opportunity to open a conversation (or pontificate - you choose). Apparently I was not successful in the transition.

Lets address the ‘casual and familiar’ tone and ‘open communication’ issue. I don’t know Bill, or anyone else in this conversation. All I know is what I read in these postings. And to be truthful, I don’t keep track of which individual says what, so each posting stands on it’s own. It was not my intent to attack Bill. I thought his comment was an opportunity to start a slightly different conversation. It may have turned out to be a kick start, but it is a start.

Many consulting organizations strictly forbid consultants from saying negative things about the client – always. If colleagues say negative things about the client to each other in a ‘casual and familiar’ environment, the consultant may have a ‘slip of the tongue’ in front of the client or at a social event. The losses (or WASTE if you like) can be tremendous.

Postings on the internet (like this forum) require a high level of professionalism and decorum. ‘Causal and familiar’ is best left to other medias of communication. (eg, I can call my very good friend a real SOB, and we can both have a good laugh. But I would be very careful when and where I call him that).

Insult vs slam – I’ve always made the distinction of an insult as judgmental dismissal of the individual, a disrespect directed towards the character of the individual. A slam is directed towards the behavior of the individual. Not quite a dismissal, but more of a slap on the wrist (or kick in the backside). This may be in error. I will be more careful in the future.

Concerning being disturbed by my subject topic, two responses: First, I am reminded of the story about Shigeo Shingo and his introduction of ‘mistake proofing’  (myth or fact – I don’t know). He originally called the program ‘idiot proofing.’ When Mr. Shingo first introduced his concept on the shop floor, the workers were upset. They thought Mr. Shingo was calling them idiots! That was not his intent. He went back and changed the name to ‘mistake proofing.’ Language is important, selection of words is important, tact is important. Be careful.

Second, I have participated in (actually perpetrated a few) large improvement efforts that were destroyed because the practitioners created a language that was not part of the general business language (the espoused intent is to communicate faster and easier). Then, the practitioners mission was to teach the rest of the organization what they were talking about. What the practitioners were actually doing was creating an ‘in-group’ and an ‘out-group’ environment. Complete with the social belonging desires, and ostracization (sp) issues that humans possess. They were the in group, or the ‘cool people’, everyone else was out. To be accepted into the ‘in’ group you had to learn the secret code of the new language. And usually perform some ritual ceremony (so how does any certification look under those lights). Also, is seems the outside group is usually the people with the money, power, and control.  So antagonizing them by converting them doesn’t gain you much. This is a extensive topic requiring a lot of explanation – some other time & some other place. Sufficient to say, language selection and the creation of ‘insider jargon’ is a major downfall of many group activities.

Theory of Constraints practitioners have a real big problem with creating a specialized language, Six Sigma people are also guilty but to a lesser extent. I was hoping LEAN would not fall into the same pit.

And finally, about Deming: I was trying to tie Dr. Deming’s teaching to the careful use of language. Connecting how improper use of language would contribute to what Dr. Deming calls the ‘destruction of the individual’ as described in his book. Again, the connection and transition part of my writing was poor.

I know that Deming’s management style was not tyrannical or oppressive. While worked for the United States Department of Commerce, Dr. Deming had over 250 people reporting to him. He commented that his style of managing was very different than most other managers, because he LISTENED to his employees.

Bill, the troop’s quick response to a perceived slight, says a lot. If I offended you, please accept my apology.

 Dave Nave & Associates 2019   -   dave@davenave.com