Why it’s important to question your own Lean assumptions

Why it’s important to question your own Lean assumptions

You may have heard that every business will have its own unique Lean journey and along the way you need to apply Lean tools, do Lean thinking and have a Lean philosophy. But there is not much talk about what this really means for a small business. 

This is because these are problems that need educating in philosophy. Before you cry what’s philosophy got to do with running my business…. take a minute to think about your Lean business by questioning your own Lean thinking. 

Firstly, you will need to question the nature of reality. What is your business like? Would you describe it as being very ordered or would organised chaos be a better description? These are quite conceptual considerations because you are questioning if all objects in your business are similar to objects found in the natural world or if they unreal and created in people’s minds. Your individual assumption defines how you view concrete, social and conceptual objects in your business. There are many views but no one right viewpoint. You don’t need to get to deep in to the different philosophical positions but you do need to be aware of your personal opinion and acknowledge that yours may be different to others. 

Bringing this to your Lean business there are many different type of objects, for example your computer, factory, machinery, organisation, individuals and concepts like management, culture, waste and value. Your assumptions and beliefs about the nature of these will not only affect your decisions and strategy development. Your assumptions fundamentally effects how you implement Lean and the methods that you will choose to use. It deeply affects how you view culture in your organisation and how you interact with people. The most important thing is that your beliefs effect your individual actions and behaviour. 

Secondly, there are different ways to know the world and so you will need to ask yourself how do I know? This means understanding how you know if something is true. This is very relevant in the age of Fake News and Alternative Facts because there are in fact several ways of knowing and every approach has strengths and weaknesses, while there is no one best way to know you need to recognise how you determine the truth. 

A big part of Lean is that the customer defines value. But how do you know how they define value. Do you use objective facts and numbers to know? Can you only get to the true value through the scientific method? The answer depends on whether the customers define value objectively or subjectively. 

The Scientific Method is a way of getting to understand value if things are constant and concrete, and it makes total sense to adopt this approach if you believe that customers define value through cost or features of the product. However the problem is that value is experiential. This means value is experienced differently by different individuals, and to make it more complex people change what they value. This is because people interpretive truths differently, use language differently and place different meanings on different things in different contexts. Therefore, the Scientific Method is not helpful to get insights into what the customer value, this problem requires a different way of knowing. 

If you’re personal assumption about knowledge depend the Scientific Method approach to get to the truth that’s fine because there are many different ways to know the world.. However by acknowledge the weaknesses this assumption you begin to realise that you need to look at this differently because Once you do this you are well on your way to understanding how the customer defines value.