On Wednesday night I was talking to someone that works in innovation for local government. I wont go into too much detail about her position or the organisation she works for. She was asking about the way we work at Made by Many and we talked about the cross-over between lean practices in manufacturing, product design, Lean startups, innovation and UX. I was fairly surprised and dissappointed by what I heard.
She works alongside some change management consultants who are trying to crack some specific problems with the process in which social care is provided to adults on behalf of local councils. She had read Eric Reiss' The Lean Startup and didn't see how it might help her with the specific problems she was facing on a day-to-day basis. She said that the change management team were Lean practitioners and that "some of them have the word Lean in their job title". She didn't recognise any cross-over between Eric Reiss' approach and the approach of the change management team she is working with. She said that it takes forever for them to achieve anything and that they only ever seem to slow things down. The change consultants had organised a 5-day off-site, involving 4 of their team and 35 social workers. As far as she could see, the only improvement that was made was a redesign of a single form. She said the estimated cost of the off-site was £95k.
£95k and the major insight was to redesign a form.
I was surprised to hear that this was perceived by many to be a Lean process. I have little understanding of the details so I don't want to be too critical but based solely on what I was told I was struggling to understand where the value to the adults need of social care was really coming from. Having 35 social workers sat in a room, away from those in need of care seems like a great example of over-processing and over-production, two forms of waste in the TPS. One could argue that this small improvement is kaizen, but why take 35 people out of their job for a whole week for an off-site? Surely that small improvement could have been discovered by visiting a social worker doing their job at the gemba, through simple observation rather than taking them away from the gemba.
I think that many practitioners of the Lean approach interpret the 'go see, find out why, be respectful' approach from TPS or the validated learning aspect of customer development as 'We must prove everything before we can act on it'. But if that approach itself wasteful and causing worry and concern among social workers and colleagues then you are causing more waste than you're creating value.
There's a Japanese word 'muri', which is one of the three major kinds of waste in the TPS. This kind of waste can often be understood by the worry and concern of colleagues and workers.
I can see that local government is itself full of bureaucracy and that anyone working in this kind of environment is going to have a very difficult time providing value to customers and reducing waste. But the truth is that Lean management is generally starting to gather real ground in areas such as healthcare and government because it's a way of increasing effectiveness. These areas of work in large organisations are often characterised by red tape and bureacracy, which is the very thing that's stopping them from being effective. But if Lean practitioners are allowing themselves to be swallowed up by this kind of bureaucracy, I don't know how that's going to provide value to anyone.