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Friday, February 3, 2012

Lean Quote: Our Process is Different

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

This weeks Lean Quote is brought to you by my good friend and frequent collaborator, Jeff Hajek. Jeff is a Lean consultant, award-winning author, and the founder of Velaction Continuous Improvement. He authors the blog Gotta Go Lean and has created the most comprehensive lean dictionary online. We have partnered together for the last couple of years on a number of webinars on Lean thinking.

"Our process is different..." — Common excuse from naysayers

One of the most frequent quotes I encounter when helping people improve their processes is “Our process is different.”

People who have not been exposed to continuous improvement efforts frequently believe that their process is so unusual that Lean or Six Sigma or whatever methodology you are using does not apply.

Normally this quote is verbatim, and it will be followed with a reason why it is, in fact, different.

After hearing this for a while, I started writing down the reasons. I put them on 3×5 cards, and kept them in my pocket during kaizen events. Over time, I started to hear all of the reasons start to repeat themselves. When I would start a new project, there was a good chance that someone would push back on the changes, and give me a reason. They would be convinced that they were unique in their situation. I would pull out my cards, and tell them that they just gave me #3 or #7, or whatever one it was. I had about 15 or 20 of the reasons on my list. Many times, the reason they gave me would be almost verbatim.

This allowed me to peel back one layer of the onion of their resistance to change, and let them see that they were not in this alone. Other people had felt the same way, and had figured out how to make things better. People are more at ease with change when they know that others have done what they are about to do. It takes away the fear that the task is impossible. They get a little of the feeling that if someone else can do it, then so can they. They realize that they are not entering uncharted waters as they thought they were.

Some of them reasons on the card were:

1. Our customers won’t let us do it differently.
2. Our job changes too rapidly.
3. There are too many variables to standardize this process.
4. This isn’t manufacturing. (used frequently in office settings)
5. Our demand is too unpredictable.
6. Our team is too spread out.
7. Our process is too creative to standardize.
8. Our suppliers won’t get on board.
9. The computer system won’t let us do that.
10. The boss won’t go for that.
11. There are too many unknowns.
12. Our process is too complicated.

Ironically, many of the items on this list are actually the reason that improvement is needed, not a reason that the change won’t be effective.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great post. We also hear this at almost every facility we enter. I recently heard a great term that describes this "we're different" mentality - "terminal uniqueness." The term was used by a hospital in retaliation to every department saying "we're different."

    I think the idea that is missing is that Lean is not just an assortment of tools, but a philosophy that targets and eliminates waste, something that anyone and everyone is fully capable of doing.