1. Who are you, what organization are you with, and what are your current lean-oriented activities?
My name is Jamie Flinchbaugh and I am the co-founder of the Lean Learning Center along with Andy Carlino and Dennis Pawley. The Lean Learning Center is 8 years old and has been working on solving what we consider to be the biggest reasons that companies fail in lean. 1) Lean is about thinking, not tools. 2) Leaders must be engaged and committed. 3) The strategy must fit the organization's unique needs. We do this but pulling services for client needs from 4 distinct value streams. The first value stream is Education – both our public enrollment courses held at the adult-learning-designed Center in Michigan and custom curriculum development through our Instructional Design Studio. The second value stream is Coaching and Advisory Services. This includes services such as leadership coaching, assessment, and roadmap development. The third value stream is Application where we help people apply lean. However, our focus in doing so is always to transfer skills and knowledge. We won't come in an run 3 dozen kaizens. We think companies should learn to do this for themselves. And the fourth value stream is Products which we hope can help people help themselves, such as our Single Point Lessons. We hope to continue innovating by solving problems that companies struggle with, which is where most of our unique products and services have come from.
2. How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fueled and fuels the passion?
I was first introduced while a materials manager at one of the first introductions of pull in the US. I was managing the material handlers in a pull system and my boss was asking me to replace pull with a scheduled push delivery system. I didn't know enough to make a logical argument against that path, so I did an extensive direct observation study of every material handler and how the system was really working. Through my observations I found that the system and the tools were fine, but we were failing due to the wrong behaviors. I was fortunately to learn very early in my career that lean will succeed or fail based on how people think, their principles, and the behaviors that this drives. I had no idea how to effectively articulate it at a time, but I did internalize the lesson that lean is born from how we think.
3. In your opinion what is the most powerful aspect of lean?
I think the most powerful is when you get a group of people at any level of the organization who were all busy doing their independent work and get them aligned and engaged. When you get high agreement of what you're trying to accomplish and how you're going to get there, and get high energy about the pursuit of the ideal state, anything can happen. After that, it almost doesn't matter what tools they use or what skills they have. Those tools and skills help, but whatever the team has, that aligned and engaged team will accomplish so much more than they would
4. In your opinion what is the most misunderstood or unrecognized aspect of lean?
I still believe that even though we've been preaching this for 8 years now, it is that people do not understand the difference between thinking lean and applying lean. We still don't understand the difference between tools and principles. As an example, take what most people call 'go to the gemba' and we call directly observing work. Most lean people will say "yes, go to the floor, get some data, build a map." They go through the motions. But they still don't get the difference from going to the floor and truly observing, truly seeing, what's going on beneath the surface, beyond eyes' sight. They don't even get that the goal of a process map is to build a common view of current reality, not to build your own "right" view. Until people learn to truly internalize lean principles, we will still see lean exist within the structure of events and tools.
5. In your opinion what is the biggest opportunity for lean in today's world? How can that be accomplished?
The biggest challenge is in getting leaders to adopt lean thinking for their own work and understand their role. Far too many leaders, and too many lean champions that support them, think that lean leadership is showing up at kaizen events to lend support and removing barriers for the lean champion's teams. But leaders solve problems and make decisions every day and must learn that their role is not just to help other people "do lean" but to do it themselves through their own actions and decisions. We find the best way to accomplish this is learning by doing, and so we spend a lot of our time coaching leaders on their own lean projects. These are often major changes to the organization that the leader must engage in anyway, but they don't know how to engage in the problem through a lean lens. By helping them do that and practicing PDCA, they can learn to internalize lean thinking.