Knowing Lean Construction is frustrating!

I always start the training of new Lean Practitioners with a general warning. They risk to be constantly frustrated after being trained as Lean Practitioners. If they do not think they can handle it they should leave the training immediately. This is partly a gimmick to get their attention but it is also true that if you are working as a Lean Practitioners you risk being constantly frustrated. To clarify this I divide the personal development as a new lean practitioner into four general development phases: 1) Skepticism, 2) Excitement, 3) Frustration and 4) Optimism.

Being skeptical is healthy
Many of my colleagues have a healthy sceptical attitude towards Lean Construction when first introduced to the general principles. This is perfectly fine. Nobody should uncritically adapt new methods or approaches. I expect them to raise questions, challenge and listen to my explanations. Sometimes; however, they forget to listen due to lack of clarity on the difference between being busy and adding value. If my colleagues are too busy to listen, I as a Lean Manager could either back off, show the results or keep nudging until they are ready to move from the "Skeptical Phase".

New things are always exciting
Next phase could be called the "Excitement Phase". In this phase colleagues have been to the first part of the Lean Training and they like the idea! It makes sense to them and they remember projects from their past experience with several examples of things that could have been done differently. They suddenly see the construction processes in a different light and start to see potentials for improvement everywhere. They are eager to go out and try it out and to tell everyone that Lean Construction is THE answer. In this phase I’ll often guide my colleagues to be structure, to reflect, and investigate the root cause to make sure they are not just treating the symptoms.

The frustration kicks in
After a while, they all enter the "Frustration Phase". Now my colleagues see the potential improvements, they understand what should be done but they are not able to act. This can be due to lack of authority, lack of influence, lack of resources, bad timing or other colleagues being too skeptical. This is the most critical phase for a potential Lean Champion. If the Lean Manager is not able to handle the frustration they will continue being frustrated and lose motivation which can potentially spread to others and thereby damage the implementation of Lean tools and techniques.

The Lean Manager can handle this frustration in different ways such as channelling their energy to areas which they can impact. For example, instead of changing the whole planning system in the company perhaps they could change it on their own projects. They can also be guided to eat the elephant in smaller pieces by for example using Value Stream Mapping on parts of the process within their control. Their progress can be monitored on a smaller level to show things are improving even though it is not in the pace they would like. It is important to guide them to lead by example, to monitor the Lean Projects, and make it visible for others.

Feeding the optimism
As Lean practitioners, we will experience a certain amount of frustrations. It is how we handle the frustrations that shows what kind of champions we will become. We need to remind each other of our ambitions but at the same time measure our achievements based on previous experiences and not our ambitions. If we measure against our ambitions we will, based on the nature of Lean, never experience a success. The more we work with Lean the more ideas for improvement we will identify. So, when we learn to use the frustration as fuel we can change the industry. Even if it takes another 20 years.

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