Tag Archives: Implementing Lean

Storytelling = Stealth Lean

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Cayce Will, Director of Information Technology for the Vice President for Administration at Michigan Technological University.

At the 2015 Michigan Lean Consortium Annual Conference, I attended a session titled, “Jane & Jack–The Story of Transformational Leadership” by Ms. Christine Coyne, Manager of Global Continuous Improvement at NSF International.  The description for “Jane & Jack” was intriguing to me–it promised to discuss how to facilitate positive continuous improvement behavioral changes in your organization through two things: the use of a fictional story and NOT mentioning Lean.  This sounded crazy, and like something I wanted to hear about first-hand. How could a simple story contribute to becoming a transformational leader?

There are innumerable aspects and elements to being a good-leader-going-on-great, and one of them is the art of reflection.  It is advisable to make, take, or borrow sufficient time to reflect on one’s leadership journey.  Charging ahead without pause to review your course is a sure way to get lost, fast. To start the session Ms. Coyne gave us the background leading up to the writing of the story, background which is pretty critical and, I think, a fairly common situation most Continuous Improvement leaders experience.  Ms. Coyne recounted her rollercoaster ride bringing Lean concepts to management with high hopes and excitement over the great potential Lean had for improving their business.  The tracks dipped a bit when adoption rates were much lower than expected and management didn’t seem to get it.  “More training,” said Ms. Coyne, and round two began. Less excited, more determined, more training and yet again Lean wasn’t taking hold. Ms. Coyne couldn’t quite understand, after all the great training, the clearly laid out benefits, the shiny new tools, why management wasn’t jumping all over Lean and utilizing it everywhere. But, true to the tenets of continuous improvement, she reflected on her situation and decided that a new approach was necessary.

She prepared a story of two people, a thought leader within the organization named Jane and an operational leader on the plant floor named Jack.  Their story described business and operation issues they were running into in their daily work and their approaches to addressing their issues. Nowhere was Lean mentioned in their story.  But the beneficial results of their choices were obvious and it was clear that their Lean based choices were good choices.  At the end of each of Jane’s and Jack’s chapters the reader was asked if they would be willing to try processes and procedures similar to what Jane and Jack tried.  Only a fool snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, and after being presented Ms. Coyne’s story, her management began quickly adopting and approving behaviors that earlier were deemed “Lean” and shunned.  Success.

I like this approach.  It reminds me of a phrase I might have coined–Stealth Lean or Lean by Ninja.  Essentially, avoid lean terminology (it just gets in the way) and teach everyone the practices you want them to follow. Show them the improved results they could sustain by changing their processes.  Don’t call it Lean. Sneak process improvement in without drawing attention to it. As I thought about the message Ms. Coyne’s story conveyed, it occurred to me that we should never be “doing Lean.”  Day-to-day, aren’t we all truly, simply, “doing business?” Perhaps through more storytelling we, too, can positively influence our workplace culture and do our business better.  I’m willing to give it a shot, how about you?