Lean and Personalities

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 08-11-20

Lean systems and processes can help take the personality out of a process. For much of our work, our personal styles and preferences can have a great impact on our work. However, this is based on what suits us based on our personality and not the needs of the work. For example, if 10 people share a work area and a couple of people like to keep everything organized and a couple of others don’t, then those personalities will drive the work, and inherently, conflicts about how to do the work. In some teams, the supervisor’s main job appears to be resolving differences based on personalities and preferences. But this is all waste, adds variation, and has nothing to do with outcomes. 

Effective lean implementation can take these personality differences and the conflicts that follow, out of the equation. We have standards. We have metrics. We do experiments to validate the best methods. It’s no longer about my way or your way…it’s about the demonstrated best way to deliver value to the customer. 

In contrast, the lean journey can be very subject to different personalities. How inclusive should we be? How aggressive? How do we balance risk and rewards? Should we be prescriptive or allow more guided evolution? Do we centralize or decentralize the effort? These are questions that are quite subject to our personalities and preferences, especially because they are much harder to measure and test than the most effective process design. 

First, I think some of this is ok. When it comes to creating change, there should be a little conflict. We don’t want to devolve and get paralyzed, but there is no right path and we should engage with our passion as well as our intellect. Second, lean journeys are a challenge of one heart and one mind at a time. You don’t just change the organization, you need to change all the individuals in the organization. There is no one plan that suits everyone, and a little variation, a little chaos, a little deviation is likely to help you eventually get to everyone. 

That doesn’t mean we let conflict in how to lead the lean journey to expand into rifts, splits, cliques, or other counterproductive outcomes. So how do we handle that? 


  1. Keep talking. Keep the dialogue going. Engage with each other. Learn from each other, and be open-minded. 
  2. Allow some variation. There is no one path forward, and there is certainly no one path forward that works for every individual. You’re going to need a few different routes, moving at a few different speeds, if you’re really going to bring everyone along. 
  3. Build roadmaps. Having a plan helps. You can always modify the plan, but at least you contain the conflict to the discussions in the creation or modification of the plan, rather than a continuous battle. 


Lean is a human system, and humans have personalities. We take out the personality when driving performance to deliver to a customer in a reliable and repeatable manner. We embrace the personalities and passions that people bring when trying to drive change. Enjoy the ride!