By Jon Miller | Post Date: February 12, 2009 1:11 PM | Comments: 4
The the Harvard Business Review article Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System Kent Bowen and Steven Spear describe Toyota as a "community of scientists" based on the their approach to management. Specifically, they describe four rules used at Toyota to design processes, train people in them and improve the processes. These four rules are:
In essence this is PDCA and standardization. The authors imply that this is something we should emulate if we aspire to a level of performance similar to Toyota's. From the point of view of process development that may be accurate but what about the human development point of view? Wouldn't a school or classroom be a more accurate description of the lean workplace?
The Lean Workplace
Adults learn through application, practice and by finding relevance of their lessons to their daily work. In some ways the lean workplace is ideal as a classroom. Some basic characteristics, or we could say requirements of a "lean" workplace include the immediate visibilities of abnormalities (problems), the existence of a standardized and agreed problem solving process and set of tools, and a workforce empowered and supported to think creatively and solve problems. Continuous education of people through daily practical problem solving is a sign of a lean workplace. The result is a work environment that is respectful of people and intolerant of waste, the very definition of lean.
The Effective Classroom
There are some uncanny parallels between what makes a school classroom effective and what makes the lean organization effective. I am not an expert in education, but here are a few obvious ones:
Teacher student ratio. Classrooms with more than 12-14 students per teacher do not perform as well as smaller class sizes. In the workplace this is known as span of control and likewise when a team leader has a team size that is too large, quality, safety, productivity all suffer. Too many companies look only at the indirect to direct ratio and increase team size, reducing one small visible cost while increasing other large, less visible ones.
How to Develop People
First we need to reframe the way we look at work so that instead of viewing the workday as a series of interesting or uninteresting tasks, it is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow each day. Practically, we could ask ourselves:
Second, we need to look at problem solving as a shared process that follows the Plan Do Check Act cycle. The problem solving approach should be standardized as much as possible, and vigorously tested and improved. Problem solving, when it follows a process such as the scientific method and is not simply fire-fighting or heroic effort, is in essence a learning process. We define and clarify the problem, explore causes, then test countermeasures to contain and eliminate these causes.
Third, we need to share what we learn each day. In a lean workplace we say "a leader is a teacher" so in additional to viewing work as an opportunity to learn, we should find ways to help others learn. This can be through deliberate teaching, participating and contributing in a team activity, or in finding and bringing new ideas and information to the team.
Introducing Gemba Academy
For a long time we have been striving to make knowledge of kaizen and lean more accessible to all. Since mid-2008 we have worked with with partners in the business excellence community to develop a solution that would dramatically change for the better how we learn about lean for the better. With the aid of web 2.0 technology, we think we have achieved this. Some of the features Gemba Academy will offer: