Lean interaction

In lean vocabulary, anything that does not create value experienced by the customer, anything that slows one down in serving the customer’s need, or does not contain potential for learning, is waste. Making something that does not solve the customer problem is waste. Waiting is waste. Any extra processing steps are waste.

The concept of lean has lately been transferred from manufacturing to other practices such as media services. People are used to lean thinking when it comes to technology and industrial processes, but it is still rare to understand what being lean means in communication-centric businesses. This is because many managers still trivialize the power of interaction.

We still don’t appreciate that work is communication: we live and work in a network of conversations. Being lean today means understanding that these conversations are never neutral. They always affect the quality and pace of the customer outcome. Communication either accelerates or slows down. Communication either creates value or creates waste. Communication can create energy and inspiration or can take energy away and reduce inspiration. Waste today means getting stuck or running in cognitive circles in the conversations we are having. Communication enables but also restricts

The sciences of uncertainty and complexity have helped us to understand that organizations can be seen as patterns of interaction between human beings. The interactions in the linear mass industries were very different from the interactions in the dynamic, unstable, Internet-based world. To cope with this, we need to learn to embrace unpredictability and complexity as inescapable constants.

Many managers still possess the skills that meet the challenges of static conditions. In a static, reductionist environment, you knew how each role fitted within the larger system. You knew how the repetitive process worked, and you didn’t want deviations. You knew what it took to make the products and you didn’t want people changing anything or inventing things . You wanted everyone to do their planned part and not get in each other’s way. When roles and organizational units are separated from other roles and units, communication is the task of the manager. You, as a manager, do the coordination and share the information necessary for each to make their planned contribution and nothing more.

In dynamic business conditions, the management practices described above are not only unhelpful, but cause damage and create waste rather than value. If you cannot predict you have to invest in real-time learning and iterations instead of predictions. Success is first and foremost based on the value of interaction, context awareness and responsiveness. What we still need to learn is that this responsiveness is not possible if we are many handshakes away from the customer context that we should respond to.

The agile manifesto points out that individuals in interaction are more important than processes and tools. Working prototypes are more important than documentation. Customer collaboration is more important than contracts and, most importantly, responding to change is more important than following a plan.

Knowledge is the act of interacting and new knowledge is created when ways of interaction, and therefore patterns of relationships, change. The creative assets of an organization are the patterns of interaction between its members. Assets are destroyed when relationships are missing or are dysfunctional.

Enabling new habits of communication and improving the quality of the conversation are today among the most important processes of lean development.