In the past few months that I’ve been blogging about ROWE, I have been poking at how the two concepts might help to reinforce each other, with the premise that ROWE-thinking could help to enable Lean-thinking by overcoming the tools-based focus that is so prevalent in Lean implementations and, instead, returning the focus to the culture where I believe it belongs.
I managed to pursue my curiosity to the point that I was able to have one-on-one discussions with one of ROWE’s creators, and I sparked the curiosity of several recognized Lean thought leaders as well. After stirring the pot and looking for the common ground between the two, I am now wondering if my original theory – that ROWE could enable Lean – was a bit backwards.
Tuesday, when Mark Graban appeared on the Results-Only Live radio show, the conversation centered around the similarities both the Lean and ROWE community face when attempting to change the leadership styles and culture I posed this question via twitter (and, yes, I realize the irony in the fact that I wasn’t able to call in because I was busy at work!):
Is Lean enabled by ROWE, or is ROWE an attempt to achieve the Lean ideal?
Whereas I began this comparison of ROWE and Lean believing the former, I am starting to believe it is the latter. ROWE, as Mark indicated on the show, is a response to the same problem Lean sees – people are underutilized and non-value-added activities are everywhere. So, what ROWE has attempted to do is eliminate that waste and utilize people to their fullest. It also does so in an intuitive fashion, and returns the gains back to the workers in terms of control over their time and freedom to work when and where they please. All of which is very enticing to all ranks of the organization, at a personal level.
Lean’s bad rap stemming from the terrible implementations of the practice due to a misunderstanding of Lean principles is an issue to be addressed, to be certain. What I am currently considering, however, isn’t how much ROWE’s perspective can be used to help overcome bad implementations, but why a whole other paradigm should be layered on top of “Bad” Lean just to make it go better. Why not just focus on making True Lean, which has a well-developed set of principles and tools, the norm? If we’re focusing on making Bad Lean more palatable, aren’t we missing a focus on the root cause and, instead, focusing on doing expertly that which should not be done at all?
As I have mentioned on this blog and others is that the countermeasures to that problem are much more well developed in the Lean school of thought. Which begs the question, if ”Good” Lean and ROWE are seeing the same problem, with the same end goals in mind, and Lean has a much more robust and mature tool set – shouldn’t we be focusing on understanding on making the adoption of “Good” Lean the norm, and not on adopting ROWE to overcome the bad?