07 August 2009

Is Lean FISTy?

I've mentioned Lean and Six-Sigma in several previous posts, and wanted to spend a little time exploring one question in particular: Is "Lean" FISTy?

If you read yesterday's post, you probably know the answer is "It depends." There are certainly some areas of overlap between the two approaches, and some common underlying values. But they're not exactly the same thing. Let's take a look at some of the attributes of these two approaches. Please understand that although I'm taking a somewhat binary approach below, the comparison isn't strictly an either/or in every case.

Lean is a process-oriented methodology.
FIST is a person-centered value set.

Lean is about value-chain efficiency and manufacturing. It values repeatability and focuses on program commonalities.
FIST is about effectiveness and creation. It values originality and emphasizes program uniqueness.

Lean strikes me as potentially introverted, focused on removing waste from processes in order to maximize value for the customer.
FIST is emphatically extroverted, focused on ensuring the capability is "affordable, available and effective." It has a higher tolerance for "waste."

Despite protests to the contrary, Lean strikes me as somewhat myopic - not in theory, but in practice. Lean is supposed to be strategic, but when it's actually implemented, human nature tends to devolve it to narrow applications (i.e. implement a change that saves my unit $10 even though the change costs the overall organization $20).
FIST, on the other hand, is systemic, and takes into consideration the human element of decision making and problem solving.

Lean's focus on removing waste is probably good. Lean's over-definition of waste might also be good. It focuses on optimization
FIST has a tolerance for what Lean calls waste, and maybe even an affection for waste. FIST is not particularly interested in optimization (which it views as impossible anyway). Instead, FIST is about near-term sufficency as a strategic objective. The ability to rapidly deliver a capability for a short/near-term need is itself a strategic capability.

OK, this is just a quick sketch of some differences. Lean and FIST do indeed have some things in common. And Lean has much to commend it, particularly in areas where the work is well-bounded, repeatable, etc. It makes sense to apply Lean to situations like invoicing, manufacturing, maintenance, etc. But in other areas, where the work is not repeatable or well-bounded, the FIST approach can still serve to guide decision making and problem solving.


Dick Field said...

Great analysis, Dan! If I could be so risky and foolhardy as to attempt to summarize: Process vs. people. I know that sounds "simplistic", but I use the terms with their deepest semantic underpinnings. Process oriented arts (or preoccupations) tend to exclude or underrate the human element, in terms of both need definition and capacity of execution. FISTy approaches recognize and refresh themselves on the dynamics of human need, creation, and execution.

Whoa! - I feel dizzy! You can tell me if that's anywhere close.

Fact is, I sensed a "factory floor" grounding of process-oriented program management theories many years ago which tended to delimit the bounds of human participation, like the lane markings of a production line. "We will all brainstorm, wherein we will put ideas on yellow stickies and then move them around for our tactile enjoyment, thus giving evidence of progress."

Mark said...

Ok, I'll bite.... :)

Certainly Lean and FIST are not the same, but I still contend that they are more similar than different. I've got a few points, which I might spread out over a few comments...

First, it is apparent that your experiences with "Lean" have been with people and organizations that just don't get what true Lean is all about. Not your fault, and sadly, this is all too common.

Lean is not a process-centered methodology. Treating it like a methodology that can be "rolled out" or "implemented" is the biggest and most common mistake that it made. Jeffrey Liker (author of The Toyota Way) wrote in the forward to the new Lean novel The Lean Manager (yeah, not a very creative title):

What I have been trying to communicate to my clients and students is that TPS [Toyota Production System, aka "lean"] is a living system. It is not a toolkit or road map. You have to live it to understand it. It evolves. Yet companies find it overwhelmingly seductive to have a clear toolkit and road map. Consulting companies feed on this need and are all too happy to provide what their customers want. If I had to list the top five mistakes in learning from Toyota, the would be:
1. Giving it a name, e.g., lean six sigma, and making it a program.
2. Trying to PowerPoint and road map your way to lean.
3. Assigning the program to middle managers to deploy.
4. Failing to see this as a major cultural change that takes a lifetime to effect.
5. Senior management failing to take responsibility for leading the culture change.

[http://www.lean.org/downloads/TLM_samplechapts.pdf, pg vii]

Lean is a person-centered value set. It is a culture, a philosophy, a set of principles, that evolved most notably (though not exclusively) over the last 50+ years at Toyota. It is about empowering people and allowing (even needing!) them to uncover problems in their daily work and solve those problems themselves.

Along the way, certain tools have been developed and implemented at Toyota and elsewhere. But again, the big problem is that too many people see that and then go try to "do Lean" by copying the tools. Bzzzt - wrong answer! They would learn much more by looking beyond the specific tools and seeing what Toyota was trying to accomplish and why, and then looking at their own organization and asking "what do we want to accomplish and why?" and only then deal with the question of "what tool is best applied in our case?".

Mark said...

yep, I think I hit a character limit... here's part 2:

The values that FIST stands for have analogs in true Lean values:

Fast: the primary objective of Lean is reducing the time between "paying" and "getting paid". Consider self-publishing on lulu vs "corporate" publishing. You "pay" an investment by writing a book, article, etc. You don't "get paid" (not necessarily in a financial sense) until the work is published. The only added value for you is publishing. Which option is Faster? Which option adds the same value with less wasted time?

Inexpensive: One example - some people get excited about Lean's potential to reduce inventory levels and then go out and buy some expensive MRP software to handle inventory control "automatically". A good Lean consultant (including all the ones I have talked to) will say save your money, forget the software, and do it visually on the shop floor. Maybe buy a whiteboard if you must. You can easily add/remove/reconfigure the whiteboard as your needs become more clear, but what would you do if your $M software isn't really meeting your needs? (hint- the sad answer usually is that you keep using the software and adapt your organization to fit it, rather than the other way around).

Simple: Taichi Ohno often wrote about "clearing the clouds". One of the reasons "standardization" became such an important concept in Lean is that when there is too much complexity, the value is difficult to see. So by reducing the complexity introduced by variation, the "best" process can be determined. Now there is no confusion and the work is simpler to follow - and, importantly, it is now possible to work on making the current "best" even better! Standardization in Lean is too often misunderstood as the elimination of creativity. On the contrary, it is an essential platform from which people are empowered - even challenged - to find a better way.

Tiny: The transformative power of a Lean culture does not come from a single person or subset that goes around "making things better". Rather, it is about everyone, everywhere making little changes every day in their own sphere of influence. Sure, there may be a time and place for some bigger overhauls (say, relaying out a factory or reorganizing a department), but those usually have a smaller overall impact than the cumulative effect of many small changes continuously implemented by a lean culture. Kaizen (continuous improvement) has been bastardized in some circles as "Kaizen Blitzes" where periodically a group gets together and does nothing but work on radical improvements. This approach teaches that improvement is an "event" to be led by "experts" and performed according to a schedule. Blegh. Improvement should happen when and where you have a problem and can think of a creative solution.

So yeah, I am a fan of Lean, and also a fan of FIST. I don't equate the two, but I see them as related and mostly aligned - perhaps like brothers... ;)
Mostly I want to clarify what I see as common misconceptions regarding the true nature of Lean (even those held by many so-called "Lean Sensei's).

Mark said...

One last point (for now)...

The example of saving $10 in one unit while increasing the overall cost to the larger organization by $20 is exactly what Lean teaches not to do! That is what Value Stream Mapping is about - helping to see how over-optimizing one area can actually be counter-productive. In manufacturing, this leads to concepts like single-piece flow vs batch processing. It might seem simpler and more efficient to an assembler to do all the welds on 100 parts first, and then go and paint them all, etc. But usually it is better from a big picture to weld one, paint one, then weld the second and paint it, etc.

But again, even "single-piece flow" itself is not the objective in Lean. Minimizing waste is the objective, and implementing single piece flow is usually a good way to do so.

The Dan Ward said...

Yay Mark!

You get a special Rogue Prize for finding the comment character limit not once, but twice! :)

And as always, your contributions are insightful and well reasoned. I love it when you write in.

I should have added a caveat or two to my original post. First, my assessment is based solely on my observations of how people try to implement Lean and how they talk about it... and not so much on the core theories or books about it. I'm mostly going on what I've seen from Lean in action.

Also, after writing this post, I spent some time with some people at the University of Tennessee, and they opened my eyes to aspects of Lean I'd not seen before... much as Mark did. So I might have written some parts a bit differently if I'd spoken with them first.

One persistent question keeps nagging at me tho: how useful is an elegant theory that is persistently misunderstood and misapplied, even by educated and motivated people? I agree: the "save $10 / spend $20" example is what Lean says not to do... but it's also exactly what people do in the name of Lean. And similarly, when I read Liker's top 5 mistakes, I can see how they conflict with the theory... but perhaps one of the flaws in the theory is that it tends to lead people down those paths.

And despite the previous paragraph, I really am developing a soft spot for Lean! Honest - there's a lot there I like!

More to follow...