17 December 2009

What Would Freud Say?

In yesterday's post, I joked a bit about the term "waste elimination," giggling at the connection between Lean's main focus and a bodily function. But the more I think about it, I wonder if there is indeed a connection?

Sometimes Lean's fixation on waste strikes me as almost pathological. There's a focus on controlling things that borders on being what Herr Freud might call anal retentive. Does anyone else think "perfectionism and a compulsive seeking of order and tidiness..." describes the general zeitgeist of the Lean world? 'Cause that's actually from a definition of what it means to be anal.

I ask these questions with some trepidation, not seeking to malign, make fun or insult anyone... nor to excuse myself from my own psychological fixations and shortcomings. And I'm also not saying I buy into Freud's whole theory of psychosexual development. I'm just wondering if the word choice is more than a coincidence. Might it represent an unconscious aspect of the Lean proponent's psyche? Because if the focus on eliminating waste is indeed connected with a particular stage of psychological development, might that imply that there is a more mature approach further along the spectrum? Perhaps something that accepts messy creation instead of pursuing efficiency and tidy expulsion of waste?

Guys like Gordon MacKenzie and Richard Branson are among the least anal retentive guys I've ever read about... and their approaches to work are worlds away from Lean (as I understand it). They're messy. Wasteful even. And joyful to a degree that is absent in Lean circles. And oh yeah, they're profitable too.

Or maybe I'm just full of it...


Dick Field said...

Great post, Dan. I can feel its psychological nutrients coursing through my system, maximally absorbed, with little to no waste. I propose promoting (well, maybe not originally) the expression "creatively nourished", with an obsession for ridding the collective body of the waste of joylessness. Let's redefine efficiency in more holistic (i.e., human) terms.

Mark said...

Ok, you are right. Making customers happier isn't the point. Lean is all about avoiding dealing with our own inner demons, so we lash out on a contrived crusade.

Lean has nothing to do with empowering people, but rather seeks to control and repress them like the machines they are.

Lean is all about outer appearances of perfection and does not care about true value.

Lean stifles creativity and forces you do do things the "right" way, as defined by someone who doesn't know you or your situation.

There is no joy to be found in Lean - providing value for customers and seeing great results is a depressing endeavor.


(character limit... part 2 coming)

Mark said...

So here's what I think: too much of this recent discourse has been focused on personification of principles and the fallacy of using individual people to represent broad schools of thought.

Mr Watanabe might be a real jerk. Or maybe just had a bad day. Or maybe was grossly misquoted. I don't know. And it doesn't really matter. As Mr. Rhea pointed out in his article, the point was: "What you really want are employees falling over each other to bring problems to the table." Talk about an environment of trust and quality leadership that must be present for employees to not just feel comfortable but *want* to bring up problems because they know that the team can and will solve them. Lean is not about Mr. Watanabe - it is about a culture that values dealing with problems head-on rather than hiding them (i.e. Lucy at the candy factory).

Mentoring and personal development as waste... huh? Uh, that's exactly opposite of one of Toyota's key principles. They are quoted as saying they "build people, not just cars." (See The Toyota Way Fieldbook by Liker and Meier, Chapter 11 "Develop Exceptional Team Associates") I think it is important to distinguish here that the definition of waste being "anything that does not add value to the product" should be considered within the scope of the manufacturing of said product. The ONLY way to remove that waste is by relying on the people who do the actual work. So *investing* in them is not waste, but rather an aid to waste removal.

With all due respect to "Stormy Brain", the article on 7 wastes is hardly a classic in the field. So I am not too surprised that it does not give you a clear understanding of what the waste of transportation really means. Spend a little time in a manufacturing environment with an eye out for it, and I bet you will see exactly what it means. To be understood, Lean needs to be lived and experienced. Even the best books and articles I have read on the subject do not fully convey the "aha" that is gained when up to your elbows in a real-world example and trying to identify and apply the principles there.

Finally, I'm sure Mr. Hairball and Sir Richard are having plenty of fun in their jobs. And I don't wish to take anything away from them. But messy creation isn't universally best (or "more mature") any more than rigid tidiness is. The nature of their work does in fact gain value from a degree of randomness, serendipity, and inspiration. But I guarantee that once Virgin Galactic needs to build a whole bunch of SpaceShips (i.e. more than Two), they are going to drive for efficiency and tidy expulsion of waste. Either that, or they will choose not to go into manufacturing and will pay someone else to build them, probably awarding the contract to a very efficient and tidy shop.

So dare I say it (perhaps this is heresy to some mal-advised Lean proponents) but Lean is *not* universally applicable. It is *broadly* applicable (i.e. not solely for factories) but of course there are situations where it could be counter-productive. Those are situations where the customer is ambiguous, value (as defined by the customer) is ambiguous, and repeatable results are not needed. Pretty much everything else though (where you have a customer who can define value for you, and wants you to keep providing something over and over again) is a good candidate for Lean principles.

The Dan Ward said...

Great and valid observations as always, Mark.

I think you and I both agree that just because a thing can be done badly doesn't mean it can't be done well. I actually think there's a lot of good to be had from Lean, in the right context. But since there is already a rousing chorus of people extolling the virtues and benefits of things like Lean, I'm trying to shine a little light on some of the potholes and dangers.

So, I'm not holding up Mr. W as the master guru of all things Lean, nor these writers as the Oracle of Delphi. But I do object to an article that so glibly glosses over one person hurting another (whether it actually happened or not), particularly when the hurter is in a position of power & authority. And this particular article was passed to me from two different people as a great example of how to do Lean right.

I'm totally with you on some of this stuff. I love the idea of employees falling over themselves in their eagerness to honestly highlight problems. But I am aghast to see abuse excused, ignored or accepted. And when ordinary practitioners of Lean (like Mr. Rhea) write stuff like the Red Is Good article, I've got to object - not to Lean, but to the lack of humanity being portrayed in the story.

Part of the context for all this (in the back of my mind) is a comment the late Michael Hammer made about his Process Reengineering work. Late in his work, he acknowledged that he "was insufficiently appreciative of the human dimension." The ability of engineers to ignore the role and value of people never ceases to amaze me.

In my experience, there's a real danger of overlooking "the human dimension" in all this stuff, even when the theory & textbooks insist on paying attention to it. As you well know, theory doesn't always translate to practice.

And at the risk of addressing way too many topics, if we define "waste" as stuff the customer won't pay for, we run the risk of looking at mentoring as waste (can I really ask my customer to pay for me to mentor someone, particularly someone outside my organization?). I agree that Lean encourages mentoring - I'm just concerned that if we focus on eliminating waste and use too broad a definition of waste, we'll end up discouraging the very activities that create the most value in the end.