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Monday, September 20, 2010

Unhook the Old

Culture can be defined as the sum of individuals' work habits within an organization.  Culture is often invisible to the members within the group because it is "the way we do things around here."  One implication of culture as a collection of habits and practices is that it has incredible inertia and momentum.  Cultural inertia is like a body in motion tending to stay in motion in the same direction unless acted on by an external force.

Conventional habits and practices live on despite changes to layout, material, and information flows.  In traditional settings it is seen as important to be doing something tied directly to production.  In a Lean environment, many practices are related to the disciplined adherence to defined processes. Most of our old habits will not work in our new Lean system. I think Shigeo Shingo said it best, "Improvement usually means doing something that we have never done before."

Wouldn't it be simple to just "break" or "kick" these habits?  In reality, many habits bring some level of comfort to us because they are routine.  Instead, we need to learn to unhook the old "habits". 

When it comes to habits David Mann tells the story of Smokey the Bear's campfire rules.  Douse the fire with water, stir the coals and turn them over, then douse again.  Not following the rules of Smokey the Bear you risk the fire restarting itself from the live embers that remain.  Cultural habits are very much the same way.

A simple model for improvement could include unhook, change, and re-hook.  Where the 3 steps of the process are defined:

Unhook – is the process of learning to change the activities in an organization.  Create a situation whereby change is allowed to occur.
Change – this is where the actual improvement is implemented.
Re-hook – is about sustaining the new system by making new connections.  Use techniques like standard work, visual control, and visits to the Gemba build new ways of doing things.

Without unhooking the old system we leave live embers that can be restarted at the first sign of difficulty.  Change is hard and there will be challenges.  To be successful and ensure the old fire doesn't restart we must learn to improve.  When you face a new problem in your new system don't break the rules or revert back to old thinking.  Use your Lean thinking to solve this new problem and improve your system.  And whatever you do don't run two systems in parallel.  Sometimes in an attempt to be cautious we are really just confusing the situation.  Be brave and embrace the change if you want to improve.

You should not expect the new ways to stick just because people have adhered to them for a day or week.  Old habits are waiting for the right condition to re-emerge.  Remember, nothing worth doing stays done forever without diligence, discipline, and hard work.

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  1. hi Tim ! What you call 'unhook', I dubbed 'the ulearning process'; something that 80% of professionalare unwilling to do consciously. Without this step, errors from the older system creep into the new one.

  2. Fernando, I like to put it this way. It is hard to move forward if you are looking in the rear view mirror. There may be bumps in the road but you must continue down the path to True North.