My new friend Dan Markovitz is a great writer. He takes opaque and sometimes confusing Lean concepts and terminology and translates them into language almost anyone can understand. When speaking with him the other day I noted I'm often guilty of taking complex concepts and making them more complex with my explanations.
When we work with clients on reducing Organizational Waste and increasing Organizational Health, people easily get hung up on terminology. There I go again. The previous sentence is a primary example. All we're really talking about is helping people to stop doing things at work that piss them off and waste their time, and help them do things that add more value to their customers, company and themselves with fewer costs.
How come this doesn't get done? Terminology is one reason; people disregard things they have to work at to understand. Fear of change. Inertia. Uncertainty. Failure of past "change" efforts. Tackling too much, too quickly. There are no shortage of reasons why making changes at work isn't easily done.
“A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.”
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast & Slow
But no change at work will happen until you can unhide the problem. Dan does a great job talking about "How Visual Systems Make It Easier to Track Knowledge Work" in his excellent HBR blog post. Visual representations of systems are hugely important. Many of the best ones evolve over time with input from many stakeholders. They often come from the people actually doing the work, not someone in charge of "managing" the process.
Getting the balance of simplicity and richness right with these visualizations is not trivial. If they are going to add enough value that people will start using them, they will have to accurately characterize the processes without adding too much cognitive overhead to learn and use them.
We'll look at a few examples of these like Swim Lanes, Kanban and Project Boards in our next few posts.