Mindset vs. Toolkit


I've witnessed many debates between executives on the relative merits of LEAN, Six Sigma, PDCA and scores of other codified problem solving processes. The people are always arguing about which set of problem solving tools is the best. I think they are all missing the point.

What is the point you ask? There is a great story about a Toyota executive attending a LEAN conference as a keynote speaker. After his speech he was asked why no one inside Toyota had ever written a book about LEAN considering that Toyota had pioneered the concept.

He looked a little bemused and said, “Because there is nothing to write about.” His audience asked what he meant by that. “Well, all the book would say is ask the people doing the work if they know what they are supposed to do, do they know how to do it and what stops them from doing it right every time…then ask them the same questions again and again and so forth.”

His point was that the value of any process, whether LEAN, Six Sigma, PDCA, etc. is not the tools advocated by that process. The value is in the mindset that develops in the people over time. A mindset, a culture that is always focused on how to do a better job.

If you go to Amazon.com you will find over 270,000 books on LEAN process. Yet the founders of the concept have not written a single one of them. These experts know that the tools are easy to learn how to use. The important work is establishing the right mindset in an organization.

Many of my clients think I have a codified process with a set of tools that I always use. I really don’t. I make up new tools all of the time.  Sometimes in the middle of a problem solving session! What I have is a mindset that calls me to drive teams to see their circumstances as clearly as possible from as many different angles as possible.  I will use any means I can dream up, borrow or steal to make that happen!

That is my recommendation to you. Hold everyone on your management team accountable for continually improving the processes and results in their areas. Do not get hung up on what specific process they use to accomplish this. Let them create the way that will work best with their people. Establish the mindset for continual improvement by relentlessly following up with them to track their progress.

This three-pronged approach of requiring managers to continually work to improve, allowing them the flexibility to do it their own way, and regularly following up to make sure what they are doing is working will establish a mindset for improvement that will be far more valuable than any tool kit you can buy.

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