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Lean, Reasons, and Excuses

What’s the difference between a reason and an excuse? The difference is one of intent. When a person has the intention of eliminating the barrier, he has encountered a reason. When a person does not intend to do anything about it, the obstacle is an excuse.

For example, imagine that the leaders in a company attempting to improve flow identifies that their machines have long setup times. If they immediately go about trying to lower that time and reduce their batch sizes, they’ve uncovered a reason. If they simply say that the setups take too long to reduce the lot size, and continue with business as usual, they are treating the setup time as an excuse.

With that in mind, consider these common reasons/excuses from kaizen teams.

“Our area is different.”

This is a frequent refrain in office areas or in job shops.

  • It is a reason if…the team tries to understand the purpose behind the Lean principles and move in that direction.
  • It is an excuse if…the team continues business as usual.

“Our managers / team / union / executives / customers / vendors / government inspectors / landlord won’t go along with it.”

People facing a tough transition often attribute their resistance to change to an outside group.

  • It is a reason if…the team actually talks to the group that “won’t go along with it” and negotiates a resolution to the issue.
  • It is an excuse if…the team takes it as a given that a compromise is unattainable and never even contacts the group in question.

“We can’t make that change without approval, and that manager won’t be available until a week from next Thursday.”

One of the biggest cultural changes that occurs in strong Lean companies is the empowerment of frontline employees.

  • It is a reason if…the team pushes to get employees empowered to make decisions on their own, or finds an alternative way to get approval so progress doesn’t grind to a halt.
  • It is an excuse if…the team eliminates that opportunity from a project because of a lack of authorization.

The point of this article is that people are extremely creative at finding ways to keep from making uncomfortable changes. The trick is to figure out how to systematically eliminate the obstacles that prevent progress.


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