Posted by: Knightbird | February 25, 2015

Pushback: The Data’s Not Right or Fair  

Real facts and data are bothersome. Because we create a reality for ourselves and firmly cling to that reality, facts that don’t support that reality become a problem. So we push back. We refute the facts. We challenge them. And in many cases, all too common to be sure, we just reject facts—deny that what is, is. For a Lean Implementation, pushback is a challenge that must be met.

A colleague of mine quoted Sigmund Freud in a draft article he is preparing, and the quote is helpful.

“Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint, when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality, against which they are dashed to pieces.”

What form does pushback take and how innovative are the actors in the dialogue? Challenges occur with statements like, “you don’t have the whole story.” The correct response is to get the whole story. “Our results are tainted by another department, they are the problem.” The correct response is a teachable moment about the existence of systems across function and departments tat we want to improve in its entirely. And how about the complete denial? That’s a more complex question because it may actually take us into the small realm of “people problems.” As I have written before, Dr. W. Edwards Deming proposed that 96% of problems are systems based and 4% are people based. People based problems require different approaches based on the people involved.

Here is an example of denial. During multiple Kaikaku, an IT Department was extensively criticized. It took too long to get service. The required updates for an EHR were way behind. The support for software was inefficient and unreliable. When the IT staff went through their Kaikaku, they confirmed most of what had been said in other Kaikaku. So what was the response? Well, the Executive for IT took all of the A-3’s that had been generated and said they would be returned when really completed. I’m sure you can guess that they were never completed nor returned. The data (employee reports) was cleansed. Fortunately, we had digital copies of the Kaikaku and all of the other division reports on the IT Department.

The takeaway was consistent with my other extensive experience. The data was not reliable, that is not collected and preserved at the source according to standards, but the overwhelming opinion said the system was broken. It doesn’t matter that IT was the subject. This takeaway fits with any broken system. So pushback happens. What do we do about it?

I am talking about an unstable system now—one that does not have standard work. The first step is to confirm the data. Establish a reliable data collection system and collect the data. Is this step necessary to improve the system? I maintain it is not. With reliable reports from inside a system, we can improve it without having 100% accurate data. Since every unstable system can be improved if the Kaizen team buys in to a need for improvement, we could improve it without any data other than employee reports. But real data collection does not take much time, it allows refutation of reasons for pushback and lets us get back on track to improving the system.

Similar pushback is described in an example from King County, Washington’s Lean Implementation. Pushback occurred, but the were able to move forward after responses similar to what I recommend. One of their major problems was in recruitment. A Kaizen revealed real data: lead time for hiring took 92 days. After Kaizen, it was reduced to 78 days (15% improvement). I participated in a similar Kaizen on recruitment that had an original lead time of 140+ days that was reduced to 33 days on average. Improvement happens during Lean. The facts demonstrate that. The reason for failure is the pushback that happens. A Lean Leader knows about and has experienced pushback. They know what Nemawashi is. They understand Hoshin Kanri. No blame, no shame is a part of their lexicon. They are coaches and mentors who can bring deniers back into the tribe they are creating in their workplace.

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