Lean Graft Incompatibility

Here is a practical way to understand how Lean management usually fails to take hold in brownfield organizations that have for years been governed by classical management thinking and practice.

Grafting is a horticultural technique whereby two plants are joined together to allow the graft to grow in an environment that would otherwise be unsuccessful. The plant that one wants to grow is called the “scion” and its host is called the “rootstock.” The rootstock provides the water and nutrients needed for the scion flourish. If grafting is successful, the two different plants grow together as a single plant and the scion produces its valuable fruit. Unsuccessful grafting is called “graft incompatibility.” This occurs when the scion and the rootstock have significant genetic, biochemical, or cytological (cellular) differences.

Grafting1The most common situation in which Lean management is introduced is in brownfield organizations that have long been governed by classical management thinking and practice. In our grafting analogy, Lean management is the scion and classical management is the rootstock. The rootstock is expected to provide an array of nutrients (respect for people, coaching, curiosity) to help the scion survive and produce its fruit (problem-solving, waste elimination, higher quality, lower cost, shorter lead-times, etc.), thereby resulting in material and information flow and other attributes that are desirable for the company, its customers, and other stakeholders.

Yet we know from experience that the scion does not grow to be healthy and produce the desired fruit. In most cases, we see “graft incompatibility” — the scion struggles to grow or eventually dies. The classical management rootstock is genetically so different that it cannot support the Lean scion (of course there are exceptions, such as was the case at The Wiremold Company and some other organizations). But what are the genetic, biochemical, or cytological (cellular) differences that invariably result in Lean graft incompatibility? Classical management thinking and practice encompasses seven types of traditions (genes): economic, social, political, historical, philosophical, business, and legal. The combination of these seven genetic differences (causal antecedents) result in large biochemical (information processes) and cellular (organizational structure) differences that lead to the common outcome of Lean graft incompatibility.

TCM Cover v2bA plant biologist will tell you that to fully understand the causes of graft incompatibility, and to consistently create successful grafts, you have to dig into the details of the genetic, biochemical, and cellular differences between scion and rootstock. As your faithful Lean scientist, I have dug into the many details for you. Specifically, the seven genetic differences and pathology of classical management that nearly always results in graft incompatibility. This is described in my book Triumph of Classical Management.

Lean graft incompatibility is an important subject that every dedicated member of the Lean community needs to learn. Doing so will generate new ideas to try so that future Lean grafts will be more genetically compatible with the classical management rootstock.

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