Why social collaboration is crucial for Lean in the West

Why social collaboration is crucial for Lean in the WestMost Lean implementations fail. We can look into this from many points of view, but in general I find the reason to be rather simple. Most companies, and most individuals within them, do not have the drive to strive for perfection.

The fundamental building block of Lean is perfection: perfection of the product, the process, and the individual. If this is not a purpose shared by everyone, or at least most people, then a vital building block of the motivation to be Lean is missing.

Is there something we can do? I think there is. It is often easier to make a leap rather than a step, and that is the key here as well. Let me elaborate.

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5 obstacles to a culture of transparency and social business

Becoming a social business and achieving the benefits associated with it from improved communication and serendipity are quite valuable in the innovation-oriented competitive situation faced by many companies. Still, this journey is a difficult one to take because of the ingrained culture in the majority of companies.

In this post, I examine the various obstacles on individual level to adopting a culture of transparency required to become a social business.

Obstacle 1: The boss knows best

While Taylorism has had a bad name for a long period of time already, it still appears in actions, even if not in name. This obstacle is typical in a hierarchical organization where the managers are not used to discussing future decisions with the rank-and-file.

It is often not the result of pure disregard of the opinions of those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy, but simply lack of understanding that they actually might know their job better than the manager does and could provide crucial contribution to any planned changes. Instead, changes are decided in cabinets and announced to employees unilaterally.

The Lean principle of going to the gemba (the place where the work is actually done) before making any decisions is an effective countermeasure to this obstacle. In a social collaboration environment, this approach can manifest through making preliminary material available and actively seeking comments and opinions.

This obstacle can be gradually overcome through positive experiences and increased understanding of the contribution each individual is able to make.

Obstacle 2: Knowledge is power for managers

Some managers may understand that others could also contribute and improve the results, but refuse to share nonetheless, often even with other managers. By keeping as much knowledge as possible hidden, they are able to protect their own position and make themselves irreplaceable. At least, so they think, and it often works at least for a period of time until the company realizes that it cannot afford to keep such people on board regardless of short-term losses.

This obstacle manifests itself through hidden decision-making and secrecy, but also through various more subtle means. Have you ever went to a meeting and have someone present material specifically prepared for that meeting there without sharing it in advance, even though it is obvious that the material was prepared well in advance (last minute bundles do not count). If the material is also somewhat controversial and would require careful study, the time for which you have just been denied by this clever ploy, you are dealing with a knowledge is power type of a manager.

The contrast to this practice is Toyota. We know a lot about work and life at Toyota from countless publications, and Toyota is willing to share many of its practices even with complete strangers. This is because Toyota realizes that true power lies in what you will be able to do tomorrow, not in what you do today. I have used this same principle throughout my working career: I can share everything I know today, because I know I will come up with many new things tomorrow, and it is this capability that is difficult or even nigh impossible to copy. Withholding knowledge for power implies uncertainty on the individual’s ability to come up with new things. Building a path of continuous learning can help here.

Obstacle 3: Knowledge is power for employees

The same obstacle appears on all levels in an organization, not only in management. It can appear on the assembly line or in service as a reluctance to share how problems can be solved or how things can be done in the most effective way. If no one knows how to do your job, that makes you irreplaceable, right?

Again, the root of the issue is a false concept of human possibilities. It is very tempting to hide knowledge if you believe that you have a specific set of knowledge and that’s it, but in fact, the human ability to learn new things is almost unlimited. Again, we come to the point where starting everyone on a path of life-long learning is the key to dissolve this obstacle.

Obstacle 4: Fear of humiliation

What if I share my ideas in public and others ridicule them or say nasty things about me? Asian cultures in particular are known for the importance of saving face, but to an extent this applies everywhere. It is not a new issue: one of W. Edwards Deming’s 14 principles was “Drive out fear” – yet most companies have still not fully succeeded in this.

I don’t think a company where everyone is nice all the time exists. People are rude or blunt at times, me included, but single instances of such behavior do not necessarily ruin everything. In fact, when people contribute on regular basis, a single bad experience among many interactions is of less significance than a single bad experience among few interactions. It is important to keep the overall atmosphere positive, encouraging, and working towards a common goal. The point of paramount importance, however, is actually making things happen when people contribute their ideas and suggestions. Nothing quite makes the point that a contribution is valued than actually implementing it.

Obstacle 5: Disengagement at work

Many people are disengaged at work. They may come in every morning at 8 am and leave at 4 pm, but life proper for them begins after that 4 pm. There can be no social business where the employees are not engaged: unless the everyone at the company sees that their job has two aspects to it – to handle daily work and to improve daily work – it is not possible to achieve great results.

In a Dale Carnegie study a couple of years ago, the researchers proposed three key drivers of employee engagement:

  • Relationship with the immediate supervisor
  • Senior leadership’s ability to lead the company and communicate its goals
  • Organizational pride – vision of organization and corporate social responsibility

Interestingly enough, two of these three factors can be affected quite rapidly by senior management activities. Thus, while grassroots movements are all fine and good, turning a corporation to the social path has to start from the top.

Overcoming the obstacles and connection to Lean

What is particularly interesting about these obstacles to social business is that each of them is also an obstacle to implementing Lean. Therefore, companies that have fully adopted the Lean model are culturally in a great position to adopt social business as well.

This raises the question, how do you build a successful Lean program and can some of the lessons learned there be applied to building a social business as well? It all starts with top management. The top management has to be completely aligned in their pursuits, and from there it spreads throughout the organization, often over several years. As in any good PDSA cycle, the first step is grasping the current situation and the obstacles that prevent you from moving forward.

Photo: Boulders by Robb Hannawacker @ Flickr (CC)

Why activity streams should not be filtered

Activity streams have established their position at the core of the social intranet. Some even consider them as the replacement of email. However, this is a dangerous interpretation to make, because activity streams are by their nature ill-suited to replace email in all the purposes it is used for. They are a very good replacement when it comes to purposes email was never particularly good for, but a full analogy is not very solid.

In this post, I will look into what activity streams are good for, and why that means that they should not be filtered.

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Working with attachments and video in Confluence wiki

Atlassian’s Confluence is a nice wiki platform, but it can be confusing at times when working with attachments and video. Of course, as a wiki platform, the whole point is to have the content on wiki pages, but there are all sorts of circumstances when attachments are needed regardless.

In this post, I will detail some basic, and some advanced, lessons learned from using Confluence when it comes to attachments and video.

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Why LEGO Universe failed and can Minifigures Online succeed?

LEGO has been interested in online gaming for a long time. It first ventured into online gaming in 2005, when it commissioned work on LEGO Universe (released in 2010, shut down in 2012), and it has two newer ventures into that space going on with LEGO Legends of Chima Online and LEGO Minifigures Online.

In this post, I will examine the story of LEGO Universe, look into what success in online gaming looks like, take a look at LEGO Minifigures Online, and consider potential niches for the LEGO brand in online gaming.

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The Confucian roots of Lean

Lean is still often seen as a set of tools to eliminate waste in processes, but the understanding that Lean is actually much deeper than that is spreading. However, even in the Lean community, the extent of that depth is rarely understood or discussed in detail.

In this post, I will strive to elaborate on the deep connection Lean has with Confucianism, what this means for the content of Lean, and what this means for the adoption of Lean in the Western world. Understanding this connection opens rich insight into Lean as well as to the reasons it is so difficult to adopt Lean in the West.

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Dynamic capabilities in personal career planning

Have you ever been asked where you will be in five years? Or what is your career plan? With the pace of change in the world being as rapid as it is, and with no signs of it slowing down, these questions do not make quite as much sense as they perhaps used to.

The same applies to strategic management, and there one of the more popular answers to rapid change has been the adoption of the dynamic capabilities framework. Interestingly, its teachings apply equally well on an individual level when it comes to career planning.

I have written about dynamic capabilities in more detail before, but in this post I wish to explore the application of dynamic capabilities to individual career planning as an intriguing analogy.

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Use of LEGO bricks in teaching collaborative problem solving

Collaborative problem solving (CPS) is an important 21st century skill. CPS is important, because both manual and non-manual work are increasingly non-standard, and because of this, the requirements for both problem-solving and collaboration at work are increasing.

In this post, I will take a look at how the use of LEGO and LEGO DUPLO bricks can help children learn collaborative problem-solving skills. One might argue that simply playing with such toys is already excellent practice, but I will demonstrate how formal teaching tasks can also be designed around the use of these tools, which enable systematic practice, and, if desired, assessment.

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10 examples of serendipity in social business

One of the main reasons for an enterprise to embrace internal transparency and social collaboration tools is to create an environment where serendipity happens on a regular basis. But what does it really look like when it works? I’ll explain the phenomena in this post with a number of real-life examples I have personally witnessed at work.

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What should Hachette do to survive digitalization?

The Hachette versus Amazon battle keeps going on as the most visible symbol of the changing landscape of the publishing industry. I have written about it before, but this time I want to take a look at the situation from a bit broader scope: What should Hachette do to survive not just this battle, but digitalization itself?

Lagardère, the parent company of Hachette, gave a presentation on its views on the publishing market and Hachette’s position in it on their investor day on 28 May 2014. This gives us a good starting point to examine what Hachette thinks it should do, and whether its conclusions and claims are sound.

(Also, I participated in a strategy MOOC recently, so some analysis was good practice for that one as well and I examined Hachette in my final project there.)

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