Jan 2, 2006

Lessons (not?) learned

Reflecting upon my website kaizen projects, it’s dawning on me that the word “my” betrays a fundamental weakness. It’s not about me, is it? It doesn’t matter how well I created new templates or simplified flow if nothing took place in the heads of my fellow team members.

I was focusing on “what” was to be changed, but not paying enough attention to the “who.” For the “how” I did better, by facilitating teams to make their own decisions within an evolving improvement process. The process itself evolved as previous teams tried out tools and established which worked better than others. Still, I find myself calling it “my” process.

Did we set learning as an objective? No. Did we discuss what we wanted to learn through events? No. Did we have a debriefing meeting to talk about what we learned? No, not yet. Did our boss ask what we learned from our projects? Not that I can remember. (Well, my memory is rather faulty, so I could be wrong on this one.)

Jamie Flinchbaugh, in an article in Lean Directions called " 'Event lean' prevents a company from becoming genuinely lean,"* says sustainability requires a team to make frequent use of lean tools, with management’s clear support. Repeated use is one way adults learn. And none of the teams got together again for continuous improvement.

I find teachers everywhere, and there was one team that taught me that the effectiveness of a lean leader is in the learning that results. This group of SME staff members responsible for member services started by improving the section of the website devoted to helping chapter officers carry out their leadership activities and communicate with HQ.

Almost simultaneously with completing their project, they were given responsibility for the web pages related to a high-level committee. Without prompting, they decided to use the web improvement process they had just worked with on this new set of pages. They invited me to come to their scheduled meetings, and it soon became apparent that they didn’t need me to facilitate this time.

Thanks to their initiative, I learned that learning is a critical objective in a lean project. Without it, all you have is an event. Improvements get stale, discipline relaxes and achievements drift into the fog of history.

I intend to put this lesson learned to work in the next lean project I participate in.

*See the "Hitchhiker's Guide to Lean" link in this blog's links list.

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