Responsibility: The Engine of a Kanban Team

Let me start this article by sharing my absolute admiration for Christopher Avery and his work.

If I should name one thing that changed my life completely I wouldn’t hesitate for a second – undoubtedly it is the Responsibility Process.

I would recommend that you hear Christopher himself explaining it, but if you are curious to get a quick walk-through, here it is:

Generally, the responsibility process starts when something bad happens. Depending on your character and inner self you fall into one of the process steps and usually go up the ladder (unfortunately this is not guaranteed).

Some people initially fall into DENIAL and later move on to RESPONSIBILITY, others get stuck with JUSTIFY for their entire lives.

To clarify things, let’s imagine the following situation: Your spouse wakes up in the morning, dresses up for work and goes out through the door, only to find out that it was left unlocked whole night, which exposed you and your family to risk from being robbed. They are 100% sure that you were the last to come home and therefore you were the one who should have locked the door.

Then they ask you: Why didn’t you lock the door last night? If you are the DENIAL type of guy, you would first think (or say):

It wasn’t me!

This is the lowest step on the ladder – you deny the issue. You couldn’t have done something so stupid and you ignore the fact that theoretically, it could have been you. Moreover, you tend to blame others for something that you might have done:

It was you! (you say to your spouse)

With the help of a few witnesses (your children) it becomes evident, that it was really you who came home last and therefore it was you who messed up. What would your reaction be then?

I was fetching you guys dinner and I had two bags in my hands and I could not lock the door.

Yeah, tell us a good story why things are the way they are and we will believe you. Thanks, but does it change the fact that your family was at risk? No! And that is why you might feel ashamed:

How could I be so distracted?

This is a natural thought in a situation like that, but is it the desired state of mind? No! Especially if you keep forgetting to lock the door.

After being threatened by your spouse that they would leave you if you didn’t change your behavior, you start locking the door diligently every night. You curse about it, but you do it because you were issued an ultimatum.

I have to, but I don’t want to.

Thinking like that puts your brain in a prison. If you do things that you don’t want to but have to, you are probably not happy. If you get very very unhappy, you would reach the state where you just stop caring and you would go with the flow. Your body would be doing things, but your mind would be floating someplace nicer where it wouldn’t feel so much pain. This is where you mind-quit.

The sad reality? Most people hate their jobs and yet they go to the office every morning. Does it have to be like that? Of course not!

The last step on the Responsibility Process is the Responsibility state. This is where problems get solved and progress is made. If you install a new automatic lock you would have a good solution to the problem and it will never bug you again. If you find a thrilling goal in your work, or even change your job, you would feel better.

Unfortunately, not many people tend to go to responsibility fast. They usually linger between states and only a small group is able to climb the stairs, but the reality is that Responsibility is the only state of mind where progress happens.

Alright, What’s with the Kanban Team and Responsibility?

Lean is all about eliminating waste and this is a no-brainer for experienced lean practitioners. All the techniques and processes that come along surface issues, which we need to fix in order to improve our system, and therefore eliminate some waste.

The thing is that the process of ongoing improvement is only possible when all parties come from the perspective of “Responsibility” and ask themselves the question “What can I do to make things just a little bit better?”

The Responsibility Process in Lean

The Responsibility Process in Lean

As shown in the diagram above, acting out of responsibility is at the core of the Kaizen culture. If you want to embrace lean, try mastering the responsibility process first. It’s a non-sufficient, but a necessary condition.

Happy Kanbanizing!

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