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Have you ever visited or worked on a project that claimed to be practicing lean, but as you walked it, you saw evidence of people just going through the motions? Sure, they had visual work plan boards or were using the latest software for the Last Planner® System, but nobody came to the daily huddle. Or if they did, the communication is not effective due to a lack of respect and trust.

This could be because the last time one of the trade partner foremen brought forward a real problem, the GC superintendent jumped down their throat saying something like “Well, that’s not my problem!” or “I don’t need problems from you, I need solutions!” So, problems don’t get brought forward anymore. They remain out there in the building, hiding, and waiting, only to reveal themselves and attack at the last moment when there is no time left to deal with them methodically and prevent them from delaying progress. This changes the superintendents and foremen from job site leaders to firemen. This leads to rampant variation in the work. We are spending all of our time fighting fires, so the building is an unorganized mess. There are safety hazards everywhere, not to mention quality issues. Oh, and by the way, we are now five weeks behind schedule.

This is Fake Lean.

Everyone involved in the hypothetical project described above now has a negative view and flawed understanding of what Lean is or should be. Why does this happen?

I’d like to share a concept that came to me while pondering the idea of Real Lean vs Fake Lean after I read about it in another post. In the graphic below, the vertical axis represents the spectrum for what motivates a person to implement Lean, and the horizontal axis represents the spectrum for a person’s understanding of Lean. This gives us four general types of people:

First, we have the person who is simply Lost. This person only thinks about themselves and has no desire to learn anything new. Think of the old-school, hardhat throwing, dog-cussing, mean superintendent that has a negative opinion about everyone he works with (or for). For whatever reason, learned helplessness, a bad mentor, a bad childhood, etc., this person is miserable and will remain Lost until they decide for themselves that they want to change.

Next, we have a person who is Searching. This person genuinely respects people and resources. They just don’t have much of an understanding of Lean, if at all. Maybe they had a Fake Lean experience and got completely turned off to Lean all together. They despise waste but have never heard of the 8 Wastes. This is the person who gets frustrated with the status quo in construction and constantly says “There has got to be a better way!” Chances are, if you’re reading this, you can identify with this person (your past self before you started your Lean Journey.)

On the lower right-hand side of the graph, we have the Fake Lean person. This person is motivated by money and self-interest. Either they learned Lean concepts out of ambition to capitalize on the savings promised by some lean consultant or maybe they were required to learn by company mandate. They have read all the books, know all the concepts, have all the certifications, but they get frustrated when trying to implement Lean on their project or in their company. They blame others for not understanding or getting on board and think to themselves “If only everyone else was as smart as I am or understood it like I do, this would work.” In short, they try to do Lean to make their life better only, and they are missing the point.

Finally, we have the Real Lean practitioner. Because this person has such a high respect for people and resources, they cannot stop themselves from continually learning and improving. They implement Lean on their projects with a contagious enthusiasm and they add value to everyone involved along the way. They are Givers with a Growth Mindset. They listen, actually listen, to anyone on their project who brings forward a problem. You can tell it when you walk on their job sites. They are clean and organized. Conditions for the workers are nice, clean, and inviting – especially the restrooms. You see a lot more smiles and a lot less inventory and waste. Their projects are a picture of calm predictability and flow.

Now, I know these four types of people are extreme blends of the two spectrums, but I wanted to anchor the concept in your mind. After thinking through this concept and writing this post, the key takeaway is obvious: in order to decrease the amount of Fake Lean out there, we need to increase the amount of respect for people and resources. I think the understanding of Lean concepts will come naturally if we do. So, how do we do that? Should we start with ourselves? We must be sincere as we do this. People can tell if you are acting. There is a difference between showing respect and having respect.

How do I increase the amount of respect for people in MY heart?

How do YOU?

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Boone graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2008 and went on to work for Hoar Construction, LLC as an assistant superintendent where he had the opportunity to work on several different types and sizes of projects all over the country and gained a well-rounded knowledge base of building. Boone’s career was forever changed in 2015 when he was introduced to Lean after reading The Goal and 2 Second Lean. Shortly after that, he learned The Last Planner System and helped implement it on several projects. From that, Boone’s heart was changed in a way that drives him to find better ways to build projects with respect for people.