If You Can See It, It Isn't Lean

ATC VS3 HubThis is a highly effective Value Stream office at Aluminum Trailer. It would be a serious mistake for anyone to see it, then run back to their business and kick everyone out of their cubicles and offices and put them into an open space like this. In fact, according to this guy at The Guardian – quoting a Harvard study – it would most likely be” bad for concentration, motivation, stress – and they don’t even make it easier for employees to communicate”. Yet I suspect many companies have and will do just that.


The problem is that this office design is the part of the iceberg above the water line. It’s the big part you can’t see that makes the iceberg an object to be reckoned with. The organizational structure that puts these people into ongoing collaboration with each other, and a solid culture that makes them part of a solid team, is what makes the open structure not only work, but the only way they would want to work. Take those things away and they would just be a bunch of people irritating each other with their noise – the kind of folks Harvard surveyed.

That is so often the case with lean. A 5S program is launched – and not sustained – and management wonders why. By itself, 5S is just a housekeeping project – a usually long overdue, pleasant Spring cleaning exercise. In a company with the right management structure and processes, and the right culture, it is what lean looks like. And sustaining is not much of a problem.

In perhaps the most widely read post I have published in my 8+ years of lean blogging, I noted that The “looking lean is not the same as being lean”. That point plays out over and over again. Tight collaboration and teamwork are the product of management and culture … and then it gets even better when you put people in close physical proximity. Just as excellence – lean – is the product of management and culture … and gets even better when the factory is put into proper alignment.

If you can see it, or touch it, it is not the key to excellence. If you can copy it or clone it, it is not the key to excellence. If you can buy it, it is not the key to excellence. C’mon – if all it takes to achieve world class teamwork and collaboration is to rearrange the furniture, don’t you think everyone would have done it by now?

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