Posted by: knightbird | December 19, 2011

Shu Ha Ri

As you may be able to tell, I am eagerly reading a new book on Lean. This time it’s “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development.” Jeff Liker and Gary Convis are the authors. I have just finished Chapter 2, which discusses the concept of “Shu Ha Ri.” I realize how little I know about Lean when I come across new concepts and explanations of how things are done at Toyota. Chugachmiut started recording standard work last year. Yet our experienced employees don’t really need standard work. However, they are not at a stage of their life where they are able to see very far into the future and advance the management of the organization through leading and training others. They are at a stage of being able to recognize defects and lead improvement events. Shu Ha Ri explains why this is for me.

Shu requires standard work to train new people. They must do standard work the exact same way each time. Liker analogizes Shu to Kata, or repetition in the martial arts until the single skill is mastered. Maintaining improvement requires this. Otherwise, entropy settles in and hard won gains are lost. Shu lasts until the task can be performed mindlessly, or without having to think much about it. Ra sets in when the worker has learned the skills in an area of work and is able to observe the whole work area and knows it well enough to start improving it. Liker compares this to integrating Kata with other Kata. In martial arts, individual skills start becoming merged into a routine of several Kata. At the Ri level, you are very proficient or an expert, and are capable of teaching others and of deep reflection on the work area such that you can improve it with originality and insight—potentially greater improvement leaps.

Most of our leaders are at the Shu stage but without standard work. That’s why they hire consultants. Or they promote or hire employees that they pile incredibly high expectations on. This “expert consultants or employees’” have no training in Shu or Ha, much less Ri. It’s a long path to reach that level of understanding where you can achieve deep insights into solutions for the problems faced.

I recently wrote about Lots of Waste. I now describe the system (even if it’s described as chaotic, it’s still a system) as missing or absent standard work. No one does work the most effective way, so there is no Shu. Without Shu, no worker has Ha. And if no worker has Ha, certainly no leader has Ri. It makes sense to me.

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