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  • Writer's pictureBrian Patterson

Lean and Choice Theory

Throughout manufacturing, business, and now state governments, the concept of Lean is quite popular. According to the Lean Enterprise Institute,

“WHAT IS LEAN? The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.” It was developed in Japan where limited resources were the norm after World War II. The concepts of W. Edwards Deming, US mathematician and engineer, redefined the meaning of quality in manufacturing. Toyota is representative of the excellence that resulted. The Toyota Production System developed as a socio-technical system propelling the company to the top of the automotive industry.

In the state agency where I work, we are implementing the concepts of Lean to provide more services without requiring more resources. There are several Lean tools that are taking hold within our agency that enhance the effectiveness of our efforts and reduce waste. Since this is a paradigm shift in corporate thinking, I have considered this effectiveness and wondered, “Why does it work?” It seems to some as the latest flavor of management think but if Toyota is any indication, it seems taht it is more than that. We know what and how but why does it work?

Enter Choice Theory. According to Dr. William Glasser’s Choice Theory, all human behavior is motivated by one or more of 5 Basic Needs: Survival, Love/ Belonging, Power, Freedom, and Fun. I have participated in successfully shaping culture among at- risk high school students using these concepts and have seen Choice Theory revealed as an evidence-based modality in other educational facilities,counseling, corrections and business. If Glasser’s statement is true, an effective system like Lean can be explained by Choice Theory.

Some examples of Lean activities are the daily huddle, the Gemba Walk, Andon, and brainstorming, such as 5S.

In a daily huddle, the unit or group reviews, in a democratic circle, the metrics, ideas, and problems that are occurring. The ways in which the huddle allows participants to meet their Basic Needs seem to me to be: Survival- knowing what’s going on and being able to express difficulties; Love and Belonging- being a significant part of this regular meeting; Power- everyone’s input is considered; Freedom-meetings are short, in standing circles, and one can state whatever they wish (within a sense of decorum); Fun- huddles often end with a cheer and create a sense of camaraderie.

The second tool for Lean is the Gemba walk. Gemba simply refers to the place where the work is done. It is similar to the concept of MBWA- management by wandering around, popularized by Tom Peters. The supervisor doesn’t really know what is going on when seated in the office reading spreadsheets or in an executive meeting. One must experience the environment at the point closest to the customer. Edgar Schein describes the leader’s attitude as humble inquiry. The Gemba is not an evaluative exercise where the leader has a clipboard and makes notes. He or she is doing more listening than talking. This creates the environment where workers can meet their needs because the feel safer when their leader is in proximity, they feel that they belong because someone is listening, they can feel competent because their expertise is respected, there is freedom because they are making decisions, and there is fun, because they are learning together. (Glasser believed that fun was the genetic reward of learning.)

The Andon is part of the Toyota Production System in which anyone could stop the production line if they see a defect, malfunction, or problem. In Lean, problems are treasures. As opposed to the, “Don’tcome tomewith a problem unless you have a solution.” Approach, workers are empowered to bring problems to the attention of leaders and the team. For the 5 Basic Needs, this can be an effective behavior.For survival,teh worker feels they can protect themselves from harm. For Love and belonging, they matter as a part of the team. For Power, each individual contributes. For freedom, thebrain9s always looking for ways to improve the system. For fun, creating quality produces those same endorphins. (No proof for that except my own anecdotal experience.)

The 5 S is a brainstorming tool in Lean to improve the workplace. It started with Japanese letters and words but the Americanized version is, Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Mainly, the Power need can be met in 5 S by controlling the environment. The Survival need can be met by making the workplace safer and knowing where everything is. Love and Belonging is met by doing things with and for the group.For fFreeom,everyone has input.For Fun, there is creativity in whole process.

As a result of knowing the Lean tools and understanding the 5 Basic Needs of all employees, a leader can enhance the quality and productivity of the workplace. WHen this becomes commonplace in the workplace, employee satisfaction and retention will improve as absenteeism and quality complaints decrease. The Toyota Production System is founded on two pillars: Continuous improvement and respect for people. I beleive that understanding why Lean works, as enlightened by Choice Theory, both can be achieved.

Brian Patterson, M ED, M. Psych, CTRTC

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