Should you show principles upfront ?






I believe that in a certain point of a learning path, values (or principles) – why’s for the systems work – should be exposed to people. Leaders would have already exposed them through their way of managing and the decisions made.

Concerning lean transformation, I believe there is a set of values necessary and sufficient to make it happen and that they are somewhat different from those proposed by Womack & Jones and Jeffrey Liker and Toyota. Let us start from here: learning is for the ones that want to learn. For others, does not make much difference if you start talking about principles or tools. Most of these “learners” wants push-button solutions (why’s doesn´t matter, but they are interested in how’s). So let´s work with these guys that want to learn and that you can push them further instead of struggling against disbelief in the first place.

They will be looking forward to understanding what values should be in place to make lean sustainable. If you show this lean system VALUES to them, they will ask a lot of why’s but will try to understand your point. I would talk about the following values: SIMPLICITY-DEMANDING-RESPONSIBILITY-RESPECT-CONSCIOUSNESS-PRACTICE-LEAN KNOWLEDEGE.

I can imagine now some minds ‘yelling’ at me: ”what this guy thinks he is to question the foundation of Toyota Production System and propose something different”. Well, it would take some time to talk about those values of lean systems. Hold on, I have not exposed my why’s so far. Anyway, this is the kickoff set of values that I propose. With enough time, I would explain the causality of those values to sustainable lean systems. Each of these words has its own meaning and relate to each other in a certain manner to reinforce each other. The most sensitive one is CONSCIOUSNESS VALUE that is about the awareness about failures, errors and mistakes.  Handling with these flaws is core to the learning process and paramount to continuous improvement (or kaizen) environment.

Without CONSCIOUSNESS in place, people won´t be able to detect and correct errors, and therefore, will not learn from themselves. My thesis is that there is a specific set of values necessary and sufficient to build lean systems upon. Of course it is not a math question. Of course there is not the right answer. Do you want to talk about it? No, I don´t think so. This important issue is not attractive to decision makers. No time for bullshit. Would you have something to say about it?

Even if you recognize that values drive attitudes and attitudes drive behaviors and behaviours account for results, I bet you will not do it by yourself. Outside support is needed, because ineffective spoused theories disguise real effective actions. A skillful outsider should close the gap between what is sad that is done and what is actually done. Most of the well-known advices like get commitment, be humble, be courageous, make problems visible (or show publicly your mistakes), are flawed. For the same embarrassing simple reason that nobody is able to teach a child not to fear. Real commitment, courage and humility come from inside. So, how to change? With commitment to improve, as initial requirement, a skillful coach can seed the ground for kaizen and learning. Such skillfulness – barely known – is not trivial.

Anyway, more important is what could emerge from a discussion about values and the values to be practiced: a new consciousness about values would rise and, perhaps, a practice commitment would be chosen by the leaders.

And if there is a critical mass of leaders, enough to make things change for long enough, they will know how to adjust the route towards lean system. Truth is that will be hard to find a group of top executives anxious to discuss and practice lean values/principles. If lean initiatives appear to be ineffective, let us try something different. Is not this try-something mindset that drove Toyota from its beginning to the excellence? Even before knowing why’s?


This article comes from my answer to a discussion about knowing why before knowing how [ ] in Michel Baudin’s blog [July, 25th, 2017].


Reference: [Change: a novel about lean transformation, pp.130-132, 279]. Mudança: uma crônica sobre transformação e logística lean. Porto Alegre: Ed. Bookman, 2013, pp.130-132, 279.

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