Hack-of-a-lot of Similarities

I’m a LEAN practitioner and have, for years now, been totally excited when watching teams innovate and improve their work flows, processes and systems. What I have always loved about LEAN is that it requires the people who do the work be asked or participate in the improvement of the work. Novel concept, eh? Being an ornery consultant, I take this one step further and rarely let supervisors or managers “in the room” when brainstorming or ideation is occurring as they are the ultimate killjoys.

Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gersdandt presented and facilitated the “hacklab” session yesterday at HR Tech. They offered a couple of things that resonated with me as similar to LEAN so I thought I’d share them with you now.

First, if it’s already awesome, leave it alone!

For years, I’ve pushed back on clients who want to tackle, and retackle a process that they (leadership) believes is broken but in reality, the teams that perform the work believe the process is working well. The disconnect always surprises the leaders and, unfortunately, they often want to move forward and invest in change for the sake of change.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe there is ALWAYS room for improvement on just about everything but here’s the deal: if the employees performing the work are doing the work well, if the goals and quality objectives are being met, if the process is efficient, etc., please know this isn’t the system that should consume a company’s resources. Trust me when I say there is probably something else that needs attention.

Second, don’t attempt to change those things that are outside of your control.

Jason and Joe suggested that we, when we are striving to improve something, need to make sure the resources, ability, permission, and authority and such lie with us! What they mean by this is that if we don’t have permission to improve or change something, if we don’t have access to the necessary resources, if we don’t have the knowledge, skills, abilities or otherwise to affect or make change, then we should not attempt to do so.

Why? The obvious reason is that we will frustrate the hell out of ourselves if we try to improve something outside of our control. The second reason is that attempting something outside of our control will, more often than not, be met with much resistance from other “owners” of the system or process. And third, it is likely that any attempt we make at change “outside of our box” will be difficult to sustain and/or easily overturned.

My opinion here isn’t offered to discourage you but rather, to empower you! I akin it to the story of the little boy who stumbled across thousands of starfish stranded after the tide washed out. That little boy couldn’t change the world but damnit, he could positively affect the situation within his control. I utilize this concept in LEAN events too – I usually invest quite a bit of time with the team from the get-go and let them know they have been empowered accordingly and that, for this particular process, we are increasing the size of their box.

Finally, once we have identified what needs to be improved and what components of such we have control over to change, we should prioritize and hack!

This is, quite possibly, the hardest part. Brainstorming is easy – so many fantastic ideas come from engaged workers who want to work smarter, increase their quality and efficiency, etc. but the reality is, there is only so much time in any given day. Prioritizing the change becomes an obstacle to overcome. Then, even when we can prioritize the change, stepping into the unknown is hard. What I like about Jason and Joe‘s approach is that the change that comes from their “hacking process” is little…just little bites. Perhaps this makes the change less scary, perhaps it decreases the risk, etc.

I see this in LEAN events too – we discuss the probability of executing the change and the reasons why it’s high or low – and we don’t try to attempt something that has an extremely low chance of succeeding…YET! My reasoning is that if the team can wade into improvement and get a few successes behind their belt, their confidence builds (their own as well as the confidence others have in them) and their credibility increases. Regardless, the teams I work with know there is one requirement and that is to ACT. We cannot improve anything if we fear moving forward, and even incremental change and improvement is better than none at all.

In summary, full blown LEAN events and the hacking process presented by Jason and Joe have a heckuva lot in common. I would hope all HR professionals who participated in yesterday’s session see how their own commitment to hacking can lead to larger organizational improvement efforts, which ultimately adds to their value at work!

On a side note, thank you, Jason and Joe, for the fun session – I look forward to seeing what the “hackers” present later on this week! And thanks to Steve Levy for the clever title of this post! 🙂