July 31, 2014

Results-Only Live: ROWE & Lean discussion today

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Lean author, consultant, speaker, practitioner and all-around guru  Mark Graban has been a significant part of the discussion on how ROWE and LEAN fit together…or don’t.  As a Lean expert with background in large-scale manufacturing at General Motors, and the application of Lean principles in healthcare settings, I thought Mark could offer a lot of perspective on Lean and ROWE.  I introduced him to the folks at CultureRX, the company created by ROWE’s founders, and they invited him to be a part of their radio show.  Hear Mark today  on Results-Only Radio. 

I think there’s some finer points to be addressed by both sides:

For the ROWE crowd:  What about concepts like Heijunka and flow?  If you have extra time at work – that’s an indicator or really, reallyt poor resource utilization and development on the part of management, as well as an indication that employees don’t feel like they have a stake in the success of the company – only in the completion of assigned tasking.  If you owned the company and benefitted greatly from its success, would you be looking for ways to make it better all the time, or would you say “good enough” and walk away?  If you think the former is more likely, then that’s the mindset you’d want everyone in the organization to have, too – wouldn’t you?  If so, then that’s the beginning of adopting kaizen as a mindset.  Declaring that people can get work done and then do as they please might be freeing, but it might also be suboptimizing talent.  Wasted Human Potential is known by many in the Lean crowd as the Eighth Waste.

For the Lean Crowd:  While the best in Lean practices (or what I will call “true” Lean) scoffs at the “implementations” of Lean that force tools upon down & dreary workers in the hopes of cost improvement or efficiency gains, that is unfortunately the degree of exposure many have to the practice of Lean.  Would a greater appreciation of the adaptive change aspects of cultural transformation – something championed by ROWE advocates – get us away from these misguided, tools-based, and frequently coerced implementations of Lean?  Would a greater appreciation for the people involved and their immediate concerns increase the likelihood of True Lean becoming the norm?


I am sure these questions, and others, will be part of the discussion.  Tune in today to hear experts from both sides share their opinions.

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  • http://www.markgraban.com/ Mark Graban

    I’m curious to see how today’s discussion goes. I agree that Lean needs to be more focused on culture and management systems – but Toyota, Dr. Deming, and others (Senge, Scholtes, Joiner) give us cultural models to learn and adapt beyond tools. I’m not sure we need ROWE other than to say “you need to focus on your culture.” We can get that other places.

    I agree that we want employees to think like owners and be rewarded like owners, not just taskmasters. I agree that focusing on time isn’t the right thing, but focusing on individual output seems just as Taylorist (just scaling back time restrictions).

    The one article linked from the ROWE website says this:

    “In a Results-Only Work Environment, people can do whatever they want, wheneverthey want, as long as the work gets done.”

    Right there, that flies in the face of Lean. Lean isn’t about top-down dictates of every single detail about how the work is done (not overly prescribed, we need flexibility in “standardized work” often), but “whatever they want” seems too loose for most settings.

    The other concern is the talk of drumming out all of the “poor performers.” This requires a more systemic look than just getting rid of those who don’t measure up, whether that measure is time or the ROWE measures. I still believe Dr. Deming’s view that 90+% of the problems are due to the system. Rarely does getting rid of “poor performers” fix the system. Who is addressing that? That’s where I think Lean provides a better framework than what I’ve read about ROWE.

    I’m referencing this article:


    • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

      Thanks again, Mark.

      As I poke at this comparison, I have learned a lot and strengthened my understanding of Lean. What I see in ROWE is a philosophy born from bad management. ROWE is enticing. Anyone who has spent dreary hours wondering why they need to fill space until 5pm or attend a ridiculous meeting at the expense of a child’s t-ball game feels an instant sense of “rightness” when ROWE is discussed.

      What I am currently feeling, however, is that is acquiescing to bad management, not overcoming it. I mentioned early on as I began exploring that if ROWE wanted to focus on results only, then offering advice on optimizing those results should be part & parcel of the ROWE movement. Who has better methods for optimizing outcomes than Lean/Six Sigma?

      I am starting to see more and more messaging from the ROWE community that is focused on employee engagement, empowerment, efficiency and delivery of customer satisfaction. That sounds a lot like Lean to me.

      I think, ROWE, at its heart, strives to make sure people are properly utilized and that the workers, not managers, are best able to determine how to do the work. For knowledge work this extends easily to when to do the work, too. However, if no one is mentored on methods for identifying suboptimal practices then less-than-good outcomes become the norm.

      The ability to feel like a part of the success of the larger orgsnism must be a part of the discussion, too. If people are not passionate about the company for its own sake, not just what working there can do for them, will all focus be on taking the company from good to great?

      Of course not. The proof? Best Buy’s performance over the past decade that has many analysts awaiting its eventual collapse at the hands of Amazon. Did ROWE create the problem? No. However, it is not providing a framework to help save it, either. As Toyota contends with safety concerns, quality issues and natural disasters it is finding that embracing its Lean principles more tightly is the key to recovery & sustainability.

      • http://www.markgraban.com/ Mark Graban

        I understand what dysfunctions ROWE is responding to. I’m just not sure I like the solution. The idea of “your work is done, you can go home” seems like a kinder gentler Taylorism. ROWE (and maybe ROWE done badly) could just be Management by Objectives without time boundaries.

        “I am starting to see more and more messaging from the ROWE community that is focused on employee engagement, empowerment, efficiency and delivery of customer satisfaction. That sounds a lot like Lean to me.”

        Yes, that’s great stuff. But my fear is that ROWE doesn’t really create teamwork and that won’t lead to delivery of customer satisfaction, if people say “MY work is done, I’m out of here” instead of working together for the good of the customers and the company.

        The creators of ROWE admit it wouldn’t work in the store settings, where the real value add is created. So I wouldn’t expect ROWE to save or kill a company. I don’t see many areas in my professional life where this approach could be applied (at least as I understand it).