Define Lean by Behaviors, Part 2: Behaviors are greater than tools  

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 04-19-17

In Part 1: The evolution of lean, we explored how our insight into lean has evolved. In this part, we explore why behaviors are so important to lean.

The most important aspect of lean evolution has been the acknowledgement of the role of behaviors as central to a lean organization. I don’t just say this because I’ve been at the forefront of helping people understand this shift, but if you look at everything from the education and writing to the practice and application, lean behaviors have been far better understood as a key component of success.Behavior Over Tools Jamie Flinchbaugh

Behaviors are often behind the failure modes of our lean tools. I discuss one of my early experiences with behaviors disrupting effective tools in a chapter I wrote for Mark Graban’s book Practicing Lean.

Let’s use a couple of examples to explain why. Take 5S – what could be simpler or more common. We organize our work. We get rid of the stuff we don’t need. We organize the stuff we do need so it is easy to access, and most importantly, we can identify abnormalities in our environment early. That sounds pretty simple, but organizing through 5S once is pretty easy, and most every organization will acknowledge that sustaining it is much harder. Why? Because the event to implement it is forced, it is facilitated. Sustaining requires an understanding and commitment. It requires that we value the stability that 5S provides. It requires that we consider other people who share the same work environment as our internal customer, and how we leave things for them is a service that we provide them. And it requires that we value having a common way or method more than we value our personal preference.

Without those beliefs and the behaviors that accompany them, the procedures of 5S will not be enough. Certainly, auditing is useful. It holds those who don’t share those values accountable to the standard, and it sends a leadership signal to those who have the right behaviors that we value and support your efforts. Auditing itself, however, can be done as a way to get a passing grade, or can be treated as a means for accountability and leadership signals. It is still all about the behavior.

Problem solving is another excellent opportunity to distinguish between the tools and the behaviors. Regardless of your chosen methods for problem solving, they are often represented as a template, but the value is in the work. How many of your problem solving templates are filled out after the conclusions are drawn, or after the solutions are implemented. But a fully completed template is often more valued than a group of people who worked through structured problem solving on a white board and never completed the template. I don’t mean to say that filling out the template isn’t important, but it isn’t the reason for teaching people problem solving methodologies. The purpose is encourage deep thinking about our problems, why they exist, and how we go about solving them. It is the behavior that matters.