Fluidity is the key to lean

Monday, August 24, 2015

This past week, I had a problem with my Internet connection, and after several attempts to reset my modem and a lengthy call with my cable company, I was told to either wait four days for a technician to come to my house or I could visit my local cable store and swap out my modem in hopes that doing so might resolve the problem.

Since waiting four days to diagnose the problem seemed ludicrous, I opted to visit my local cable store. This is where the story gets interesting.

Upon visiting the store, I advised the sales associate of my predicament and asked if she could indeed swap my modem out, to which she answered, “Yes.” Unfortunately upon examination, she found that I had not brought the power cable. For my modem, that was necessary to make the exchange.

I was in urgent need of the modem because I was delivering an online webinar for a client early the next morning. So I provided her with my ID and credit card and asked that she simply charge me for the modem.

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” she said. “It’s against our policy.”


Have you ever needed assistance or help with something, only to be foiled by company policy or rigid procedures that don’t allow room for flexibility or adaptability?

In my travels, I’ve visited countless organizations to study and assess their efforts and success to streamline and standardize work processes only to find that a commitment to doing so often results in rigidity. Put another way, although the revised processes in many instances were relevant and valuable at the time of introduction, they quickly lost value following new initiatives or changes within the organization. The desire to improve and add value resulted in a broad belief that value is inflexible not fluid.

This is not the premise of lean.

Value, just like customers, equipment and technology, evolve. As a result, processes, policy and procedures must be fluid and adaptable, not rigid and structured.

Just because the initial investment in introducing lean results in cost to a business doesn’t mean that the events and outcomes of the introduction need to remain stable and unchanged over time. In fact, the very test to confirm that lean has been adopted is to spend time assessing how the processes, procedures, and most importantly, the people have changed and evolved since inception.

How can we avoid rigidity in process? Reflecting back on my modem situation, it was clear that the associate was only doing what she was told by the store manager, but instead of teaching her what to do, why wouldn’t the store manager instead teach her how to think?

If a customer wants something, how can we support the customer? What is the impact to the business?

What creative solutions might we offer that set our product or service apart from our competitors?

How can I create more autonomy in my employees to help them grow, evolve and enjoy their work?

These are the types of questions we should be considering, not how to create and document procedures that force employees to act like robots, checking boxes and submitting reports.

When it comes to thinking and acting lean, think fluidity not rigidity. How can you create more autonomy in employees, more empowerment for your customers and more flexibility in your operations? That’s the power and purpose of lean.

Shawn Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Company, Incorporated, a management consultancy helping organizations globally to improve organizational performance and build financial strength. Learn more at www.casemoreandco.com or follow Casemore on Twitter @ShawnCasemore.