Is Lean Thinking Another Name for Prudence?

Recently I had a call from a well known training company in Englandwho were planning a Six Sigma Lean Government workshop in February of 2007. He did not ask about successes, or best practices, he wanted to know the major difficulties with our Lean initiative in Maine. Thinking about it, I reached the conclusion that anxiety/resistancethat stemmed from organizational change was a potential major barrier to successful implementation of a lean transformation if not the most significant concern. Resistence causes anxietyfrom both labor and management. Change is difficult, with union/management pressures, budget constraints and significant accountability expectations many government employees are stressed to the max.Some deal well with this throughexercise, appropriate time managment and other personal wellness strategies. However, this potential state of mind is not a good situation if management is in denial about this reality.Ultimately the lean government strategy will fail if this important detail is not part of the overall strategy. Measurement ofwork to reducewaste combined with innovative use of technology is only part of the overall picture.The people part of leancontinues to be a critical aspect which can be fogotten in the hype of scientific management, continious improvement, value stream mapping and otherprocess analysis tools. Government exists to serve the people through services and infrastructure coordinationand that includes the employees who provide the service.

A recent article in the Public Administration Review *speaks to this dilema. The article “In Search of Prudence: The Hidden Problem of Managerial Reform”byJohn Kane and Haig Patapan of Griffith University in Austrailia, touches on the accountability and related prudence reform that began in the Reagan years, continued through the Clinton Administration.These authors call this the New Public Management and basically contrast Aristotle’s phronesis (practical wisdom)with Weber’s analysis of government bureaucracyas being best managed as arational-legal structure withmeasurable standardsthat can be objectively evaluated. Lean thinking adds a new dimension to Webers view and includes customer service and the personal transformation that occurs when worker get more work done with the same or less effort. Lean thinking, I would propose, is ametamorphosis of this movement. Lean Thinking has clearer goals and better implementation strategies, but it appears management may be in danger ofmaking some of the same mistakes that are outlined in this article.The article concludes:

“An administration that endorses prudence requires the reconstruction of an ethos in which the public sector is honored as a distinctive realm that is dedicated to the very bestpublic service and in which public servants are honored for their role in providing such service.”(Kane, Patapan PAR 2006)*

In the Maine Department of Labor a lean initiative has been ongoing for over two years. More on this is availablein one of my previous blogs.One ofthe great sayings from my home state that I am proud to introduce here is this”As Maine goes, so goes the Nation.”At theMDOL employees are honored each year with a employee recognition event.This event counters the potential sinking emotional ship that can occur withany organizational developmenteffort. This years eventthe planners brought in a wonderful combination of motivational speaker, comedian and juggler, Randy Judkins. The attendees laughed so hard and enjoyed the unique presentation so much, that for a moment at least, nirvana had arrived. I understand that it is not always possible to arrange for this kind of healthy comic release, but the point of this article is that without some strategy for recognizing that organizational change can take its toll on employees ultimately the initiative may fail. Finding a balance between individual creative effort and measured production in conjunction with a strategy for recognizing the human need for recognitionand support is the key to successful lean transformation in government.

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* Public Administration Review (PAR) Volume 66, Number 5, September/October 2006, American Society for Public Administration, ISSN 0033-3352, Blackwell Publishing 2006

Comments 13

  1. Mike Carnell

    As much as a person cannot argue with the content of your article/blog or whatever the correct terminology is, it does seem amazing to me that this would come as a lightening bolt to anyone who is remotely in the lead of any change issue. It would seem that if you are involved in SS, Lean, TQM, Reengineering, etc that at some point it had to occur to you that you maybe implementing an initiative but the ultimate objective is change and just maybe you need to understand it if that is your objective.

    It sounds nice to suggest prudence but what does that really mean? One initiative at a time? Two? Three? We can talk about the stress level but how does that manifest itself so a company knows when to back off? Somehow it would seem that offering up that as opposed to pondering Aristotle may be more pragmatic.

    In terms of your other issue, I have no problem with recognition for public servants that do a good job. That makes them just like everyone else that does a good job. It would be difficult to say that a fairly unanimous opinion across the US is that our public servants are less than customer focused. Although it has been a mere 2.5 weeks since I left the US I have very vivid memories of the two postal workers complaining about the poor service one had just received at the local drug store while we waited in line for them to finish their conversation. So much for USPS and their Customer Perfect program.

    Just my opinion.

  2. Stephen C. Crate

    Mike I understand your perspective but choose to view the overall perspective a little less pessimistic. The the effect of organizational change on individuals in a company or organization is very predictable. The management response is a matter of choice. It can range from tough beans this is the way it is and if you don’t like it there is the door to a more developmental approach that recognizes the fact that human beings accept change differently. Prudence in this sense is explained by the authors of the referenced article as a general attitude of integrity, honesty, and respect. This does not suggest at all that the measurable goals be changed or reduced in anyway. Waste in the private sector effects the stockholder bottom line and in public sector higher tax and revenue requirements to operate the infrastructure. But the management response to employee adaptation to organization change can encourage or discourage. I am suggesting that in the public sector the rule should be encouragement and that in some public sectors the concept of public servant is real, genuine and authentic. The rest is opinion and subject to the vision of the company owner and the board. I am certainly talking about the ideal here. But I believe we should strive for the ideal when possible. Anything less is criminal.

  3. Mike Carnell

    I don’t see anything pessimistic in my response so rather than label it as that maybe you can point out the portion you see as pessimistic.

    People will resist change, no doubt. We deal with it daily on every deployment but it isn’t a show stopper. There is genuine stress based on issues and there is plane old resistance to doing anything different. My point is that writing something that suggests prudence is pretty much non value added. Prudence doesn’t have any practical meaning. It sounds good but it does not supply any type of measurement system or action to continue to move the organization forward. At the end of the day the organization does need to evolve other wise there will be a lot of stress when it folds. Now the public sector doesn’t have to deal with that. They can maintain the consistently low performance and we get to pay the increases or else they invite in groups like Fed Ex or UPS that respond to customers.

    We already support USPS with the largest fleet of airplanes and the largest fleet of trucks and how do they stack up to Fed Ex? What is the success rate on their overnight delivery. I thas been a while but last I saw was just over 90%. So I pay for a service I don’t get and then when the management wants to improve I have to worry about prudence.

    It doesn’t work for me. It resonates the old thing deming identified as an obstacle to improvement "We’re different." Not really.

  4. chubsoda

    I’ve been involved in Lean / Six-Sigma almost ten years and if there is one, main common element (or problem) that exists, that is the non-changing, sometimes combative attitude that people will routinely show regarding this type of initiative. I have dealt with this behavior in automotive manufacturing, non-automotive manufacturing, and also currently as a governmental employee for many years. The problem is that too often many do not want to learn, listen, or be led to solutions for implement any process improvement changes. So in turn they may do minimal tasks by walking a fine line between trying to implement solutions that are watered-down, feel-good type of activities and/or memorizing the ‘talk’ to try to impress others.
    Europeans can work 35 hours per week in the automotive sector to get the same quality and production rates completed that American’s cannot seem to do within a 70 hour week. This occurs because there are hidden issues most often ignored that cannot be ‘Leaned’. While work processes can be routinely being reworked, reworked, and reworked again with success, minimal success, or no solutions in sight, the true reasons are completely ignored and it’s not just in manufacturing but in business administrative processes. It’s a cultural, ingrained attitude that exists in America and we’re paying dearly for it.

  5. chubsoda

    In 1997, while studying for my undergrad’s degree in Industrial Technology at Baker College, my engineering instructor said something that will always remain with me and I’ve heard similar comments since, and that is this; in Asia, when a person, or company sells a defected product another Asian (or country), they are stealing from them. This is not accepted within their culture. But until we change our Americanized, social attitudes and realize that selling non-compliance product is stealing, we’re going to be fighting this uphill battle and we’ll never win the war. Quality begins with the heart and mind. When you care, it shows. As I stated above, an EMS system is only as good as the people implementing it.

    What’s the secret with Toyota? For starters, implementing a TPS is only the ‘icing on the cake’. If a company is intent on implementing a TPS initiative, they need to ask why? If they’re intent on deceiving their customers, forget TPS. It’s a waste of time, money, and sleepless nights because TPS will not fix problems outside of processes such as the idiosyncrasies of careless, lazy, and inept employees. Even if they’re not intentionally going to deceive their customers, they are still wasting their time, money, and sleep because mandating changes only frustrates and upsets employees and turnover will occur, period. Culturally speaking, it’s already a failure.

  6. chubsoda

    So how do companies like Toyota succeed, and succeed in America as well? Toyota is bringing their culture with them. They’re also training their employees by changing their working lifestyle. It’s already an ingrained mindset so it doesn’t matter how an employee may fight it (if they choose too), they’ll eventually succumb to it or leave the company. This is why Toyota has successfully fought off unions. Employees don’t want a union because they do not need one. It’s simple. Their working lifestyle exceeds what a union could do for them. For instance, if you move to another country, you’ll still ‘live’ with your habits of your old culture. But no matter how hard you try, you’ll soon lose those traits for the new culture that you’re surrounding yourself with and you’ll eventually change. The same will happen within a new manufacturing facility. I personally have experienced this type of change with new employers. One employer may have an incredibly educated and positive group while another employer may have a ‘send it anyway, we don’t care’ mind-set.

    I really believe that until we approach these cultural issues and recognize them as a root-cause problem, American manufacturing and businesses will never fully achieve the successes that they’re searching for and need. The more we fail to recognize these problems, the more ground we will lose to our competitors.

  7. Stephen C. Crate

    I think the authors of the article define prudence differently then your use here. I agree fully with your analogy of USPS vs Fed Ex and am sure the numbers would prove your analysis true. Measurement of process time is necessary to determine success, reduce waste and obtain baseline for overall production goals. My point is more rhetorical. When I read this article in PAR, I reached the conclusion that the concept of Lean overall is not new. That historically it has be utilized in the past, but that Lean is different from prudence as defined by these authors and much better because of the tools and overall continious improvement philosophy. I do believe lean tools and related organizational change can be implemented with sensitivity and respect of the human condition. So the answer to my question in the original article: Is Lean Thinking another name for Prudence? is a clear NO!

  8. Mike Carnell

    Rhetorical – designed for effect or display, florid, florid, showy, affected, declamatory.

    This not a word you base a strategic business decision on. This is more of an esoteric discussion. This isn’t a game. Peoples livelihoods are at stake. Change must happen because of the dynamic environment we operate in. The pace is dictated by that environment. You make the best effort you can to create a benign transition but you do not lay the balance of the organizatiuon on the alter because a person has trouble coping beyond your best efforts.

    Will Lean be more benign? Just as in any other initiative it will depend on the pace. Run 5S on every operation from beginning to end in a process simulaneously and watch the chaos. You are extrapolating the effect from the methodology when in fact the issue is in the application/deployment. This is backwards logic that appears to have a foregone conclusion and work back to a tool. It lacks rigor.

    Motorola had a consultant that taught Change Management at Motorola University. After explaining all the techniques and tools he told us that if that did not work you used COW. Nobody understood. Comply Or Walk. There are times when people are so far out of alignment with the organization that kindest thing to do (for both of you) is part company. The organization does have the obligation to handle that with compassion.

    Just my opinion.

  9. Mike Carnell

    I am still waiting for the pessimistic portion to be identified. Pragmatic is more accurate.

  10. Stephen C. Crate

    Yes rhetoric is the word, I prefer drama to math when describing the human condition and pragmatic is at times pessimistic or a least results in negative consequenses that may in fact prove developmental for the individual affected or may be destructive.

    I do not disagree with your pragmatic reality. I am not arguing for a particular wishy washy esoteric position, nor am I engaging in a spiral conversation with little or no final result. I am trying to describe what I have observed and am looking for strategies, as a continious improvement practioner, that are proactive and in keeping with the common good. Calling this discussion mental masterbation is the exact response that hard nosed managers believe is in the best interest of the "company". "Parting company" is not an easy option when you are in the public arena due to the ADA. If I fire employees because they don’t or can’t get it then where do they go? As a public manager I cannot ignore the societal consequense of this. Outplacement or reclassifying jobs certainly is an option, but then they become somebody elses problem and that is irresponsible in a perfect world. I know we can’t save everybody. I know that in the final measure if an employee cannot do the essential functions of the job then they must "part company", but that is the last resort. I have focused my career on helping those who do not get it and am seeking solutions rather that defending a position. Thanks

  11. Mike Carnell

    You have chosen to equate Pragmatic with pessimistic and that is purely an opinion. You have also tried to make a case for the Public sector being different that the private sector and there may be some rules that differ but the iisue is change and it isn’t about the rules particularly if people are looking for strategies. It is about human behavior and that is consistent between sectors, states, countries, etc which is why a profile tool like Meyers Briggs can be validated in 82 countries.

    You tried to set yourself up as operating to a different standard and you finished your response agreeing with what I said. You have taken a pointless article and tried to introduce the concept of prudence as if it were something to revolutionize change management. The last thing change management needs is another buzz word.

    It does need to be applied pragmatically because it isn’t about sacrificing the whole for the sake of a person who doesn’t handle change well. Read an old book like Futureshock and pick up some info from a guy who saw this coming in the 60’s the read The Aeviant’s Advantage and see what a futurist sees. Change isn’t going to stop and it certainly isn’t going to slow down. If you want strategies build them on that not holding hands with the few that refuse to change.

    At the end of the day it is business.

  12. Mike Carnell

    Is this Jim Hines from Motorola and Black & Decker?

  13. Jim Hines

    How about back to the basics – you know, good ol’ engineering know-how, concise communication, bullet-proofed processes and control, honest handling of information and a global eye ball. Think.

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