How to Stop Weaponizing Tools

Guest blog post from Jeremiah Hargrave - Director, Quality and Organizational Improvement at Torrance Memorial Medical Center

Weapon: a thing designed or used to inflict harm or damage, a means of gaining an advantage or defending oneself in a conflict or contest.

Would you categorize your PI tools as weapons? I definitely would. We use these tools in our quest to fight against waste and create value for our customers. They are weapons that help us make inefficiencies visible, think about a problem differently and identify bottlenecks. When used in the spirit of continuous improvement, tools are some of the best weapons we have to help teams improve processes. Our conflict with waste is never ending and we need to use every weapon at our disposal to gain an advantage.

Weaponize: exploit for the purpose of attacking a person or group.

Have your tools been weaponized in your organization? Too often in lean implementations tools are misused or misunderstood. In the beginning of a journey there is excitement and improvement all around because of new processes, new tools, less waste and better efficiency. The tools start to work and that’s when the trouble can start unfortunately. Tools in the wrong hands are dangerous and can be detrimental to an improvement journey. People may grab hold of a new tool to show their teams that they walk too much or create a communication circle to display to another department their poor communication. In these situations, the tools are used to make the changes that they want to make and also are used to point the finger. Once a tool has been used on us instead of with us, it has been weaponized, and people pull back which makes the journey stall.

Rapid Improvement Events get the job done because teams come together, make great changes and celebrate. These successes create a buzz around this “tool” and people take notice. Then, what may happen is that a rogue manager has a change that they want to make and decide that if they call it a Kaizen or utilize a Rapid Improvement Event, their chances of getting support may improve. The manager’s agenda may be moved to the top of the list. This valuable tool has now become a weapon to be used for the wrong reason. While there will most likely be some improvement made, is it the right improvement for the right reason?

While tools are extremely valuable in the fight to eliminate waste, they are in fact just tools. The principles behind improvement and the reasons we utilize a specific tool is what is important. It is very important when using tools to ensure that you focus on the principles of lean and respect for people. Tools are weapons to be used to remove waste with the people who do the work, not to the people who do the work. We need to teach people to adapt to the needs of their teams and not every tool is needed on every improvement project. Once a team understands the value of the tool as a weapon to remove waste together, improvement accelerates, and the journey moves forward. You can avoid weaponizing tools by working through process improvement with your teams while solving the problems that are important to those who do the work. If we follow the principles of lean, prioritize the work that matters to our customers, and involve our frontline team members in improvement, our tools will be viewed as weapons in the fight against waste.

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One Response to How to Stop Weaponizing Tools

Jesse Tamplen says: 08/10/2023 at 10:34 pm

One of the best article I have read on a long time. I completely agree that too often powerful tools get weaponized and then people fall back to the status quo of basing decisions on feelings and opinions, which creates a rabbit hole of other problems.


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