Some more thoughts on ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) and how it aligns with my understanding of Lean….
ROWE and Lean share many of the same philosophical underpinnings. However, if I had to describe what I think are the most significant differences between the two approaches, I’d have to say this: That while ROWE begins with a a people-centric cultural transformation in order to to focus only on the Results (meaning: valuable work products), Lean tends to focus on Waste & Value, believing that reducing the former and increasing the latter will bring about a people-centric cultural transformation. While that is an oversimplification, perhaps, I think it does enough to demonstrate that at least one of the major differences is simply one of direction.
Lean does have a very well-developed and extensive toolbox for identifying waste and increasing value by optimizing processes. What I repeatedly see those working to implement Lean describe, however, is a frequent failure to sustain the journey and convert that tool usage into fundamental, cultural change across the organization. The terms “Fake Lean” and “L.A.M.E” (Lean as Misguidedly Executed) have been coined to describe Lean practices that work, technically, but aren’t done as part of an overall change in operating philosophy.
ROWE, on the other hand, focuses heavily on adaptive change rather than technical change. Adaptive change is a slow, on0going process by which new behaviors are incorprated into daily life through experience with new situations or perceptions. External changes in the environment might necessitate adaptive change, however, regardless of the reason adaptive change focuses on transformation of the beliefs that drive behaviors. Or, in a word: culture. Technical change is something that causes behavior to change quickly, and which can be learned but need not be experienced. A change in payroll regulations, for example, can be explained with a handout and a powerpoint chart.
Unfortunately, I believe (and have experienced myself) the tendency for many Lean agents to focus on the “Implementation” of Lean through a technical change method. Classes are held, training is conducted on what Lean is and how the tools and systems within Lean work. Unfortunately, little attention is paid to the cultural transformation that must occur for sustainment.
ROWE, on the other hand, could probably benefit from incorporating Lean’s toolset once the culture has begun to morph into a Results-only focus. If you realize meetings are entirely optional, that you can still provide value while working where-you-want-when-you-want and that time spent not keeping tabs on what other people in the office are doing is not just wasting the company’s time – but YOUR time, then you might also wonder what other things you take for granted are inefficient, wasteful, and adding no value to your customers whatsoever. In my mind, it stands to reason that if ROWE wants to focus solely on the results, then the next logical step is to optimize processes to maximize those results, too. I think utilization of Lean methodologies would only push the ROWE concept to even greater heights.
I find it very interesting that the Shingo Model for Operational Excellence has, as its base, “Cultural Enablers” that lead to Continuous Improvement, enterprise alignment, and then ……….. (you guessed it)……RESULTS. Furthermore, the transformation process described in the model has Culture at its center, with Results as one of the critical elements influencing the Systems, Tools and Guiding Principles that make up the rest of the model.
While I think that ROWE and Shingo share nearly identical guiding Principles, I also think ROWE has a more well-developed understanding of the dynamics that occur as organizations are experienceg transformation. Lean, on the other hand, is well-developed in understanding how the utilization of tools and systems can help to sustain, and evolve, that culture. Both models, however, have Results as a critical element – as it should be.
While they are, perhaps, competing approaches to creating workplace change I do believe that ROWE and Lean compliment and reinforce each other much more than they contradict and weaken. I think this presents a tremendous opportunity to generate a new understanding of how to both bring about, and sutain, the workplace transformation that has been so inconsistent, and so elusive, for so long.