I was speaking today with the COO of a large construction firm that has been on a journey to deliver their projects on a lean basis for the last 8 years. We were speaking about the usual comments senior people make about lean. He said, "Don't paper the projects; you need to change your practices to deliver a lean project." In other words, going through the motions won't make the project lean. But what will make it lean?
You need to change your practices to deliver a lean project.Doing a project lean is not an implementation issue. Rather, it is about adopting a different set of behaviors. Behaviors are an individual issue. Each person has to decide that they will approach their work differently. This is the bad news. It's also the good news. Why? There's really nothing to implement. My colleagues (and clients) might disagree. So be it. The fundamental issue is for people to approach their work with a new attitude and a new commitment.
The new attitude is to make today better than yesterday. You've probably heard something like that before. I was in a plant where I saw a sign that read, "Make tomorrow better than today." That is not what is really going on at lean firms. We can't wait for tomorrow. We only know that we have today. Toyota calls it a no-satisfaction attitude. It's the complete opposite of complacency.
Only unwavering leadership will set the stage for adoption.The new commitment is to learn in-the-moment from each anomaly, variance and breakdown. I don't mean doing a lessons-learned at the end of the project. That's a waste. Rather, each little difference from expectations is exactly that opportunity to learn what we need to learn. A few years ago I had the opportunity to speak with Gary Convis, who was the Toyota North American President of Manufacturing. He was asked about the importance of advanced problem-solving approaches. In short, he answered, "The vast majority of improvements (Toyota) makes — over 80% — start and finish with a good 5-why." He went on to explain it is the habit at Toyota to notice small variances, to stop and understand why they occured, and to do something in that moment to prevent recurrence (install countermeasures).
"Lean this" and "lean that" are not issues of implementation. Last Planner® will not make you lean. Nor will kanban, kaizen events, single-piece flow nor 5S. Even doing all of them on your project won't make you lean. Lean — true lean — happens in the minds and actions of each person in the organization. To pull that off takes the determined unwavering examples of leaders. Only that leadership will set the stage for adoption.