Lean/Kanban – The Perils of Partial Adoption

Following a conversation on Twitter with Al Shalloway I thought I’d post this reflection on the perils of partial adoption when introducing Lean and Kanban into an organisation.

In his book “Systems Thinking in the Public Sector” John Seddon talks about the Dutch city of Delft’s method for social landlords to let their properties.

It is a method that is based on available capacity, vacant properties, being directly advertised to those who need them, i.e. the source of demand, with feedback on which applicants for these properties had been successful advertised in the same media so that unsuccessful applicants were able to check the qualifying conditions of the successful applicants.

In the UK this process was adopted but crucially combined with an existing practice of maintaining a database on which applicants had to register before they could apply.

Seddon sums up the folly of this partial adoption:

“The Government’s scheme took an idea that was developed in Holland, modified it to fit with existing practice and, as a result, removed its essential value.
This is a classic example of copying without knowledge, rather than seeking first to understand the thinking and principles behind the original design”

I have lived this. Whenever the lean adoptions I have led have faltered and shown signs of this, it is this description from Seddon’s book that haunts me.

Whether it has been management insisting on man hour estimates when presented with data based cycle time forecasts or stagnation caused by a failure to control WIP I think of the naive and partial adoption of the ‘Delft Model’ as described by Seddon and set about fixing where we were going wrong.

I will be talking about these experiences as part of my Dare 2013 talk in a couple of days time.

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