Last week, I posted a question on Linked In:
Are Lean/Six Sigma and ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) complimentary, or competing, approaches to workplace transformation?
Both place a heavy emphasis on value and the elimination of any activities that don’t produce that value. Lean, however, advocates an engaged management that is able to “go to Gemba.” In gemba, leaders can observe where value is created in order to find waste and identify areas for improvement. ROWE, however, places a heavy emphasis on worker autonomy and freedom, as long as the Results are achieved. This could lead to the Gemba being anywhere and everywhere, especially for knowledge workers.
If good results come from good practices, and good practices are created, sustained and improved by observing work in Gemba, does that indicate Lean is incompatible with ROWE?
I asked my connections whose backgrounds were centered in either Lean or ROWE to weigh in on the discussion. People from both backgrounds frequently indicated they had little knowledge of the other. That was not much of a surprise, but I hope this discussion helped to raise some awareness. Here’s what some of them had to say:
Mark Graban (Consultant, Speaker, Blogger, Author of ‘Lean Hospitals,” Chief Improvement Officer at KaiNexus):
One question I have about ROWE (based on an admittedly superficial understanding from having read a few business magazine articles about Best Buy): When is individual performance ever truly individual? If I’m part of a team, how do you measure individual results? If I’ve done “my work” and get to go home, how does that impact a team that’s dependent partly on my work or additional effort?
Joe Dager (Creator of the Lean Marketing House program)
@Mark Is not Kaizen and Teamwork an individual process. Do you not have to take individual responsibility and ownership before you can help the team? I use the term iTeam and clearly discuss that the I (individual) comes before team. So to me ROWE is leaving the worker pull the Andon chord versus being “supervised/monitored”. Completely supports team theory since that is who responds to the Andon.
Note: Joe has asked me to share my thoughts on an upcoming edition of his podcast.
Kimberlee Bush (Digital Imaging Specialist at The Raymond Corporation)
For knowledge workers, I do not think LEAN and ROWE are incompatible. It requires a thorough understanding of the purpose and goals of both if applied together. Knowing what the priorities of the position and organization are, for both the worker and the leader, will help define the results expected, while leaving room for autonomy to makes process improvements on an individual level. Knowledge workers are not usually confined by the repetitive processes of a shop floor (gemba), but will often benefit from a true Value Stream Mapping exercise.
Cali Ressler (Co-Creator of ROWE and co-author of “Work Sucks and how to fix it: The Results-Only Revolution“)
ROWE and Lean can, and should, co-exist. When you try to implement Lean practices without a ROWE in place, things will be good for awhile – but then, because everyone has to fill time anyway, there’s no incentive for being efficient/remaining Lean. So people start to fill up the time again with things that don’t matter. In a ROWE, Lean practices are sustained because people are rewarded for efficiency, streamlining processes, etc.
Mark Hamel (Lean Implementation Consultant, Award-Winning Author, and Blogger)
Well, your question made me try to learn a bit about ROWE (I had never heard about it before). I am definitely a proponent of a meritocracy, which ROWE appears to facilitate…in spades.
Not sure how the results only (one video I watched said ROWE was about productivity, productivity, and productivity) jives with lean principles such as standard work, respect, humility, flow and pull, etc. I presume that there is a danger with an overemphasis on productivity, especially depending upon team size/scope. For example, will it drive sub-optimization? What about the application of SDCA (standardize-do-check-adjust)? Etc.
Guess I need to learn more about ROWE. Bottom line for me though is if it is inconsistent with lean principles, it’s DOA.
Thanks to all the respondents, there were others who posted there ideas, too, and the question is still open. Feel free to post your own thoughts.
What the responses revealed to me is that both the Lean and ROWE approaches have some similarities, especially when it comes to the Respect for People principle of Lean thinking, as well as the elimination of useless activities – both tangible and intangible. It also revealed, however, that there needs to be more awareness and information shared so that experts on either side can determine how the two approaches can come into alignment.