Transforming Transformation – by John Shook

We are all trying to transform. That’s what lean thinking and practice are all about: challenging us to reflect deeply on how we can improve this situation, improve my organization, or improve myself (and of course, all three.) Each of us knows from experience that this work is never easy. Whether you are toiling at the gemba, struggling with your mid-level team, or fighting to transform your organization, this is tough work.

A Transformation Model

Better understanding the nature of transformation is core to the mission of LMII today. At the company level a transformation is a very big experiment indeed. In fact, many of the presenters at this year’s Lean Summit 2014, on 5th and 6th November at Bangalore, will illustrate what this means at both the macro level, and at the very granular level of the daily—hourly—immediate—work itself. Sharing this model with you, and helping others practice and develop it, enables us at LMII to narrow a gap regarding our aim.

Observing efforts in the community over many years – often working with you side-by-side – we have learned that successful transformation calls for a situational approach that is based on innovating key dimensions of any organization through addressing a series of questions. These questions are fractal—meaning that the same questions apply whether working at the macro enterprise level or the level of individual responsibility as you dive progressively deeper into each dimension. But, while the transformation model that has emerged through years of experience is situational, the natures of the questions represent a clear point of view: if an organization fails to address each question, and with a sense of how each relates to the others, the transformation is headed for trouble.


Fundamentally, the process of successful lean transformation rests on applying PDCA cycles of experimentation (the art and craft of science) at every level, everywhere, all the time. Being situational means that every story is going to be specific and different (each situation has a different aim or purpose). Being grounded in a common set of principles yet situational in application provides rich opportunity for the development of truly profound wisdom. But, lean thinking and practice, and lean transformation, entail more than PDCA alone; the lean approach to transformation carries some specific value judgments as well.

Effective total transformation entails transforming five fundamental dimensions, through continuously addressing key questions associated with each:

By tackling each dimension through addressing questions, we avoid the lean no-no of prescriptively giving solutions as is typical of “lean implementation approaches.” Thus, we can have a dynamic approach to transformation in which each organization creates its own unique approach, one that helps them achieve their unique purpose through practical utilization of the deep wisdom embedded in the lean practices that have evolved over decades of rigorous PDCA.

Learning from the collective experience of the lean community we know that tackling the five dimensions through continually and thoroughly addressing these questions is both necessary and sufficient (!) for a successful enterprise-wide transformation.


Community Transformation

We at LMII, learn tremendously from you—the struggles and successes of the collective experience of the lean community. And the community continues to expand; in fact we need to start speaking in terms of lean communities. Adjacent communities are intersecting, colliding, and converging, which is as it should be. Long-time adjacent communities such as organizational learning, system
s thinking, psychology, social sciences, and operations research collide with new communities such as Lean Startup and the “Maker” (small entrepreneurial manufacturing startups using low-capital technologies and low-risk strategies) movements.

A lot of activity to be sure—but can we say that where there is activity there is learning? Unfortunately no, it’s helpful vital for us to be intentional in our learning, and intentional in approach to transformation.
That’s exactly what we will explore at our annual Sustainable Lean Transformation Summit, scheduled on 5th and 6th November 2014 at Bangalore.