Simplistic Ain’t Lean

Leonardo da Vinci’s quote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” could easily serve as a lean tagline.

Surely, lean tools, like standard work, visual controls, and mistake proofing devices, are only truly effective if they are easily explained, understood, deployed, maintained, and adjusted. Heck, lean principles are simple too, just hard to implement.

This whole simplicity stuff is consistent with the Shigeo Shingo-identified first objective of continuous improvement – easier (followed immediately by better, faster, and cheaper).

But, some folks in their rush to keep things simple, careen into “simplism.”

Simplism, defined by, is, “[t]he tendency to oversimplify an issue or a problem by ignoring complexities or complications.”

I think a lot of simplism is driven by a type of unthinking lean just-do-it machismo, detachment from the gemba, and/or ignorance of lean principles, systems, and tools.

Simplism begets simplistic directives. Like, within the next quarter, team leaders need to facilitate problem-solving like their counterparts at Toyota.

Except, there just might be some “complications” that need to be addressed first, such as the fact that Toyota team leader span of controls is in the 5-8 associate range, and our team leaders have 15 to 20 associates… not to mention the profound training and mentorship that is required to develop effective team leaders.

Simplism begets simplistic countermeasures.

Countermeasures must address root causes - real root causes. And, the countermeasures must work in the real world.

For example, when a given process is irreducibly complex (for now), the standard work might have to be more than 1 page.

The simplistic practitioner (and I have encountered such folks) might maintain that standard work can’t be more than a page. "It’s too hard for my (well-educated) folks to absorb..."

Simplism shouldn’t be allowed to trump lean principles.

If the one page standard work is insufficient, then the steps, sequence, cycle times, standard WIP, etc. may not be appropriately defined. What then? Is it OK for the operators to improvise?

Ignoring complexity and complications. It’s just magical, non-lean thinking.

Lean leaders can't be simplistic.

Related posts: Guest Post: “Magical Thinking”, Working Smarter, or Just Harder? Thoughts on Standard Work., Kaizen Principle: Bias for Action

There are 2 Comments

James Lawther's picture

Hi Mark,

There is a world of difference between simple and simplistic. You only need to look at Google's home page to understand that.

But it is also easy to swing the other way. As my old boss used to say to me "Any idiot can make it difficult"

Liked the post


markrhamel's picture

Hi James,

Thanks for the comment. It has prompted some necessary self-reflection.

Yup, on plenty of occasions I have been an idiot.

Here's to simple.

Best regards,