UK Lean Summit 2015 – The Power of Questions – Thinking for Ourselves – Review of John Shook’s Plenary Session

Lean is about improving processes and providing solutions. This delivers the desired outcomes, right? Wrong, says John Shook.  Lean transformation is enacted through a new way of thinking and acting. And the essence of Lean is transformation through asking questions, rather than implementing off-the shelf solutions. Lean is a heuristic system, in that it enables people to learn for themselves. It is not prescriptive, it is situational. Ask yourself, how did Toyota build their system? They couldn’t copy Lean solutions from other organisations as they didn’t exist!

They did this by asking questions about what system they needed in order to deliver value to customers and employees alike while creating a sustainable profitable business.  Reflecting on both Toyota’s approach and failures across other organisations, John’s Lean transformation framework identifies five inter-related dimensions of change. And underpinning the model are core questions that any organisation needs to ask and answer in order to enact successful change :-

  1. PURPOSE: What is our value-driven-purpose?
  2. WORK TO BE DONE: What is the actual work and how can we improve it?
  3. CAPABILITY: What capabilities do we need to develop people to do the work? 
  4. MANAGEMENT SYSTEM: What management system and leadership behaviours are required to support the new way of working?
  5. BASIC THINKING: What basic thinking, mind-sets or assumptions underlie this transformation?

Every situation is different. Our organisations have different purposes and different problems. That’s why these questions work – they force us to think through our problems and the problems of the organisation for ourselves.  So many organisations copy Toyota without thinking through their purpose and specific problems for themselves.  No wonder that many fail to deliver successful Lean transformations. So, as John says, let’s throw out those roadmaps and start thinking for ourselves.