My wife is taking a couple classes in preparation for attempting a PhD in psychology… probably so she can finally figure out why her husband loves flow charts, manufacturing conferences, and big greasy production equipment. Last night she was reading out loud from one of her textbooks, which usually does a great job of putting me to sleep, but this time it made me perk up a bit. The text was Self-Directed Behavior: Self-Modification for Personal Adjustment by Watson and Tharp, and is basically focused on how to identify and change presumably negative attributes about your life.
What struck me was how analogous this process was to the lean transformation process, the Deming cycle, and other aspects of change management that us factory floor grunts know and love. In hindsight of course it makes sense; the root activities of change are fairly well-defined, and common to any type of change.
For example, the fundamental process steps of self-modification are:
- Select the goal and develop a commitment to change.
- Make observations about the behaviors targeted by the goal. Try to discover the antecedents that stimulate those behaviors.
- Work out a plan for change.
- Readjust your plans as you learn more.
- Take steps to ensure that you maintain the improvements.
Plan-Do-Check-Act. The kaizen event. Concepts we use in lean manufacturing every day. Identify the problem, get a committed team to focus on the problem, map the current state, develop the future state, execute the change, evaluate the change, sustain the change.
The details are remarkably similar. One of the reasons we spend quite a bit of time creating the current state map is because most of the process owners are so embedded in the process that they don’t realize how complex it really is. The usually requires going to the gemba.
"Self-observation results in the realization that the target behavior occurs, or fails to occur, because of specific circumstances. You have to make self-observations in order to discover the circumstances."
Even the process of deciding to begin change requires a series of steps. Think about how companies decide to actually embark on a lean transformation. The authors describe these steps as:
A period of precontemplation, in which people are not thinking about changing.
A period of contemplation, in which people think about and perhaps experiment with change.
A period of preparation, in which some people get ready to change.
A period of action, in which change occurs.
An relapse or a series of mistakes, after which people may feel bad about failure and go back to not thinking about change for a while.
A maintenance period involving continuing change.
We all know many examples of companies and organizations that simply have their heads in the sand and aren’t even contemplating change. Many of them won’t be around in a few years. Then there are some that are waking up to the competitive pressures and realize they need to change. They may haphazardly try a couple things (such as chasing low labor dollars around the globe…) but soon realize they need more knowledge. Then a subset will methodically find knowledge and plan the change. A few of those will execute the plan, and most will meet some initial failures. A few of those will get past the failure and continue to change, leaving a small number of truly lean companies.
Creating change requires a vision of the changed state, which again is often difficult. Probably the biggest problem impacting a lean transformation is getting the leaders to really believe that spectacular results are possible. Remove 50% of an activity’s cost with just a few days’ work? Impossible. But we do it all the time. To overcome this hurdle we send people to conferences and especially on tours of companies that have implemented lean.
"Observe people who are successful at what you are trying to do, and then try their tactics yourself. It is often better to observe other people performing than to ask for advice."
One aspect of the self-modification that could be somewhat different, but helpful, deals with failure. Most companies that attempt lean fail, and the main reason is that the first failure convinces them that lean isn’t applicable to their particular environment. Why they fail could be due to any number of factors- trying too difficult of a project too early, not having sufficent training the methods and process, or not having a committed team or leadership. But perhaps failure should be looked at differently:
"If you realize that you are merely developing a new skill, you will tolerate mistakes better, perceive the situation as offering the opportunity for growth, and have a higher sense of self-efficacy. Holding a skills development attitude helps you develop the necessary skills."
The next few weeks will surely bring more insight, even if I don’t remember it in the morning.