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  • Writer's pictureyashasree barve

Learning Lean - Four great stories and four greater lessons

Here's a penning down my learning from a Udemy course on "Lean Leadership Skills, Lean Culture & Lean Management" by Lawrence M Miller. First of all, the course was great and I thoroughly enjoyed taking the course. Lawrence is very knowledgeable and his experience shows up clearly as he is able to relate the concepts with real life examples from his work. I thought of writing 4 stories that really struck me during the course and would stay with me for a long time. Hope you enjoy these too.


Habitat for Humanity - How you change is the change:

Habitat for Humanity is an initiative that builds homes for poor or disadvantaged people. Typically volunteers build these houses and then turn it over to the future owner of the house, the disadvantaged family. However it didn't always go well. Sometimes a year later, the house would be a wreck or not in a good condition. The initiative team experimented and involved the future owner of the houses in building of those houses, may be painting walls or hammering nails or whatever was possible. The experiment showed that the more they involved the future owner of the house in the building process, they felt it was their house, created an ownership or sense of earning it. They took care of their houses, it also had a radiating effect on the neighborhood. The people who are going to live in the house should build and design the house to sustain it.

If we relate to the change processes in corporations, consultants studying and giving reports may not really drive change. How to engage people who are going to be affected by the change in designing the change, so that they take ownership is really critical to the success of the change. It also helps as they understand why they designed something in certain way, they feel empowered to come back and make changes to the plan.

Involving the teams that will get affected by change or transformation to give inputs while the strategy or plans are formulated not only brings the contextual knowledge to the table, but also increases the feeling of ownership paving for a successful change.


Making whole chairs - Intrinsic Motivation

Historically humans mainly were used to whole work. For example for a farmer, right from planting the seeds, taking care, harvesting, taking to market and selling was a rewarding process. Cabinet makers signed their names on the cabinets they created as they were proud of their work. For people who have a hobby of crafting furniture, they may be spending time over weekends to say making table or chairs may be to be gifted to others or use themselves. That is rewarding to the persons. Henry Ford's scientific method of specialization of work changed things drastically and destroyed the intrinsic reward of making a whole thing. Making a whole chair is what makes it rewarding, its not just creating legs of the chair each day.

Typically the way the factories work are probably just making parts and someone else assembles those. No one experiences the whole process. This is in contrast to the above concept of intrinsic motivation of seeing through the whole process. To a degree possible, design the work process such that the team can see and feel and have satisfaction of making a chair and not just a leg.

Cross functional nature of agile teams where they can take up an end to end ownership of the product using 'you build it, you run it' philosophy emphasizes this concept of rewarding motivation of making whole chairs. When we look at separate front end teams, back end teams, testing teams, data teams, we should remember making only legs of the chair, and see how we can form a team that can actually make a whole chair.


Why Teams?

Lawrence puts forth an idea that everyone in an organization has to work in a team, preferably a team of 5-15 people. He also has a very interesting take on why we have to get people together in groups.

Human is a social creature, we need families and social bonding. We learn from the group of people that is around us. We are motivated to play on a team and teams are learning organizations. Lawrence speaks about how for thousands of years, humans worked in a small groups such as family farms or craft shops, that kind of got into our genetic code. This social intimacy declined through Ford's factory and mass production with supervisors telling employees to just do their own work. This breakdown of social intimacy then gave rise to union rebellions. Very interesting stories of how the unions caused by the need for intimacy had people call each other brothers and sisters. Another interesting example he shares is the work he did with gangs in prison, where disintegrated families slowly raised criminal gangs, showing again need for intimacy, where gang members called each other brothers and sisters!

With this knowledge of necessity of addressing these human needs, today's thought process of systems thinking, TQM or Lean/agile culture advocate building social systems at workplace through teams. Teams are the units that's going to go through continuous improvement cycles.

I just loved this analogy. I have seen teams coming together and working on problem solving in an autonomous manner really doing wonders. Cross functional autonomous self-organizing long running teams rather than specialized groups of skills providing only a specific services are indeed at the heart of the agile philosophy.


Scoreboard at Sporting Event - Visual display

Lawrence gives an amazing analogy of a sporting event to understand the importance of visual display. If there was no scoreboard in a sporting event, keeping track of what's happening in the game in itself becomes botheration and stops the fun from the game! Imagine printing out a spreadsheet detailing what happened during first half at the break, with nice columns of numbers being handed out at the end of the game. Players and spectators would probably be less motivated and may not even show up for next game.

Mapping it back to work, just a spreadsheet printed at the end of the month giving all reports may not be motivating enough for the team or stakeholders. It takes out the fun in terms of celebrating the achievements in the first place. One must have the scoreboard displayed, and that's what makes a difference in motivating team members to do the work.

Identifying only a few selected important measures that the team cares about and putting it up as a large visual display in the team area really builds up the motivation in the team, and everyone cares about how things can be improved to be better! Transparency, an important pillar of scrum surely persuades us to keep things transparent and visible so that teams can continuously improve!


Hope you enjoyed these four stories and learning from the same.

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