The essence of LEAN thinking is the avoidance of waste and it depends on the practice of Continuous Improvement (CI). Simply put, CI is the process of experimentation: creating a measurable hypothesis, testing it (safely) in the real world or in a lab, measuring the results and reacting accordingly. This is the scientific method: recognising that most experiments are unsuccessful to some degree, learning from the outcomes and course-correcting. Each experiment is not a failure, it’s a step towards the answer. This philosophy is the basis not only for LEAN – 50 years old already – but the more recent derivatives: “Lean Start-up” and the emphasis on the need to “pivot”, Minimum Viable Product, and the “Knowing-Doing Gap” with its focus on putting ideas into action rather than wait until they are perfected (and ironically, “low risk”, even though they have never been properly tested).
Strange then, that so few businesses – even start-ups – operate this way and that is the reason so many of them fail. Leaders, convinced they are right, ignore all the contrary evidence, because it doesn’t conform to their world view. As you know, this is the definition of insanity.
A perfect example of this is to be found in the world of our tech-dependent SMEs. For them, the challenge is how to scale profitably and for most of them that means a heavy investment in technology and technical capability. Most of these organizations then embark on a frenzied recruitment campaign to double or treble (or more) their internal IT staff (building up their HR organizations to attempt this thankless task). They believe that these resources must be internal – often on site – as the only way to properly control work and protect IP. The chilling fact is that the resources aren’t there and the ones you find will join piecemeal (bringing with them a multitude of different development approaches). By the time you have got to critical mass (if you’re lucky enough), those that joined first will start leaving and the experiment continues with the same inevitable result. You will never be at capacity long enough to hit your software production targets with the quality you need.