The UK government’s Spending Challenge web site seems to be up and running again and the number of suggestions to “save money” that mention lean has gone from 9 to 19 to 23 – not all of them it has to be said to do with lean thinking unless “lean meat” in school meals counts.

Another keen critic has voted for my suggestion to Implement lean/systems thinking across government, dragging my average star rating down from 4 to 2.5.  Even without being a Six Sigma black belt I can work out the statistics of that – (s)he must have given me 1 star.  Have these people no appreciation?  In the meantime, the most popular “pro” lean suggestion has 13 votes and an average score of 4.1.  Grrr!!

Well, I suppose it’s good fun – sort of.

Much more interesting are the anti-lean proposals and the adverse comments on the pro-lean suggestions.  As I mentioned in my post on 9 July these – mostly from disaffected public employees – are worth scanning for evidence of how not to do it.

Here’s some of what they say and the fundamental errors they reveal.

  • “An outside ‘lean’ consultancy recently tried to reduce waste in radiology. New monitors were needed so the lean team ordered the cheapest they could find to save money…the resolution on the new monitors was to low and scans could not be interpreted due to poor image quality.  The new…monitors were thrown away and more appropriate ones bought.  The ‘lean’ team still got paid and were not invoiced for their mistake”.  Fundamental error No. 1 – never use consultants to do the ongoing work, only to transfer skills in to the organisation.  Fundamental error No. 2 – lean is not about buying cheapest it is about eliminating waste.
  • “Lean implementation…just becomes a bureaucratic nightmare of non-jobs”.  Fundamental error No. 3 – it’s only bureaucratic if you let it be.  The people who do the work know best and should be enabled to make the improvements themselves.
  • “I saw a pathology lab where some ‘lean’ consultants had been speeding up the process.  All jolly good but nobody asked why the samples were coming in the first place. The answer was that 80% were entirely preventable”.  Fundamental error No. 4 – clearly no analysis of the root causes of a problem.
  • “It seems to be all about hitting targets”.  Fundamental error No. 5 – it shouldn’t be.  In fact, targets kill real improvement.
  • “People are employed to make sure that staff only have certain items on their desk i.e. only one photograph and a small (not large) bottle of water.  If staff fall foul of these rules they are then reprimanded”.  Fundamental error No. 6 – confusion of superficial rules with the real power of the technique called 5S (see my post on Tidy up time for adults)  Fundamental error No. 7 – a blame culture.
  • “Each team [has] to have a meeting every morning to tell them about the day ahead when most Civil Servants days are the same and nothing different gets said.  Each team requires a white board (cost) and figures are collected every hour and put on the white board.  These figures are never checked and most of the staff make up the figures or hold work back for the next hour if they have done a lot of work just in case something else pops up”.  Fundamental error No. 8 – misuse of “visual management” techniques
  • “Managers spend all day now just analysing statistics”  Fundamental error No. 9 – whatever that is it’s not lean.  Lean should mean that the current work situation is available to everyone at not much more than a glance.

And there’s more of the same.

You may say the staff concerned have misunderstood what is going on, perhaps willfully in some cases.

 It matters not.

In every case what has gone wrong – lack of understanding, poor implementation, inadequate communication, disaffected people – is the responsibility of management, and the more senior they are the greater the responsibility they bear.

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