Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Experiments as Nemawashi

Lean folks have heard the term nemawashi.  I've heard it described as preparing the roots of a plant for transport.  It's related to consensus-building, and is especially critical when we are proposing big changes to a process.

I started thinking about nemawashi last week when I was in Six Sigma training.  We were learning about Design of Experiments (DOE), which is a methodical and data-driven approach to testing future-state processes, potential countermeasures, etc.  Immediately, I started to compare and contrast the DOE approach to the less scientific Barn-Raising Kaizen and Quick PDCA approaches that have served me well in the past.  I wondered how we were able to achieve what we did without the rigor that DOE provides.  Then it dawned on me that one of the reasons for our success with these less rigorous and more action-biased approaches was that we were performing a type of nemawashi.

We have all probably seen this formula...

R = Q x A 

...which of course stands for...

  Results = Quality of the Countermeasure x Acceptance Level.

Whenever we test a new countermeasure, we are doing more than collecting data to check the quality of the countermeasure.  We are also impacting the acceptance level for change.  If done right, an experiment can help remove the fear of the unknown, send a message that change is coming, and bring out ideas that don't arise until we see a new process live in action.  These are all symptoms of nemawashi being performed.