Lean thinking may not have been big in the first century, but there's at least one quote that can be applied to Lean, "...you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." So, in a Lean context how do you know the truth and how will it set you free? Here are three steps.
1. Identify the waste through direct observation. Start with genchi genbutsu, Japanese for "go and see for yourself." Go the gemba. Improvement begins with a deep understanding of what is called the current condition, current situation or current reality. In short, the truth. Truth can be obtained through personal direct observation. Anecdotal evidence is typically incomplete and often just plain wrong. It allows for the introduction of bias, whether purposeful or accidental.
In Lean we often employ the use of certain tools (and methods) to better force and focus us in our direct observation. They also facilitate the identification of waste and help uncover the root causes of that waste. The tools, depending upon the situation, include current state value stream maps, time observation forms, standard worksheets, standard work combination sheets, % load charts, operations analysis tables, etc. When properly applied, their format forces a presentation of the data in such a way that waste and related issues are more easily identified for the observer and for others (the more, the merrier!).
2. Acknowledge the waste. Easier said than done. Direct observation can identify the truth, but it does not mean that everyone will acknowledge it. In other words, identification is largely a technical exercise, acknowledgment is mostly behavioral in nature. While the truth is the truth whether known or acknowledged, waste can't be eliminated unless it is both identified AND acknowledged. As such, effective Lean cultures repudiate problem hiding. No problem is a big problem...heck, can anyone find a place where there are no problems? In order to facilitate the right environment there must be a large measure of trust where the focus is on fixing processes and not targeting people for blame. The principle of respect for the individual and a data-driven mentality must be front and center.
3. Eliminate the waste. Well, if you've identified the waste AND acknowledged it, then you know the truth. You are now free to act upon it. Of course, this is a mixture of both technical (how) and behavioral (willpower, aggressiveness and stamina) elements. The truth has helped lead you to the PLAN, now it is time to DO!
What do you think?