Lean – Holding Precious What it is to be Human

lean-heart-bookAt the moment I’m working on a new talk “The Long Way to Lean” for the International PHP Conference in October. As I can’t expect everyone in the audience to have a concept of “Lean” I want to add a short introduction. And I don’t want it to be about “waste”!

So much more than “Reduce Waste”

I hate how much the discussion is centered on waste. At least in Germany that’s the most prominent feature of Lean. To make matters worse, value is not always part of the discussion. One would think that in order to define “waste” you would also have to strive for “value”, but, nope, in my experience it’s not necessarily so.

Though I definitely prefer to frame things in terms of “value” than in terms of “waste”, it still didn’t feel right to me. And then I remembered the two pillars of lean are “Continuous improvement” and

Respect for people

The other things derive from that. Creating value is a way to respect your customers and reducing waste is a way to respect your colleagues’ / employees’ time.

When I started researching the phrase I found that a more literal translation reads:

Holding Precious What it is to be Human

Isn’t that beautiful? We’re humans, we fail and make mistakes all the time. And that’s okay. We also have the ability to be kind, to learn and to work together to accomplish greatness. In its creators minds’ the saying also contained the imperative to invest in people as well as for everyone to improve:

Respect for people is the attitude that regards people’s ability to think most

I totally get why Taiichi Ohno refused to put his approach into writing for so long. People tend to look for rules, easy fixes. They find and implement JIT and limit WIP and yada yada yada. But without caring about people as its core, Lean just streamlines unpleasent workplaces without substantially improving lives. I’d also suspect that heartless Lean can’t change the bottomline much, because the people who know what needs to change are still ignored and company politics continue to rule the day…

Let’s take heart and hold humans precious when we strive for leanliness!