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What Do You Hope to Learn at Congress This Year?

11 August 2021

By Tom Weathers, Landis Construction Co., LLC; Director of Purchasing & Systems Innovation — 2022 LCI Congress Chair
Originally published on www.lcicongress.org

Learn by Doing, From Those Who Do

This seemingly simple tagline is a highly effective approach for driving professional growth. It’s also the theme for LCI’s 23rd annual Congress this October in Phoenix, Arizona. Let’s unpack this theme a bit and explore the opportunity at hand.

Learn by Doing

Lean learning is not a straight path. It is a continuous effort to enhance your current playbook by honing a variety of collaborative skills while developing useful habits.

Lean enthusiasts often leverage a PDCA cycle for learning and improving. Plan, Do, Check, and Adjust your way towards better best practices. It’s a cycle for continuous improvement that never ends and often leads to better and better Standard Operating Procedures, forming the basis for future improvements.

Everyone sucks at it in the beginning. There are exceptions, but most of us struggle to gain traction with Lean initiatives at first, only achieving that through persistence, resilience, and continuously practicing the Lean habits and behaviors we seek to master and model for others.

Lean inherently begs for wider engagement with your team and other project stakeholders, and so Lean deployment is often undercut by human factors such as varying degrees of enthusiasm, learning styles, egos, turnover, misconceptions of Lean tactics, and lingering apprehension among many stakeholders. LCI is our ally in that struggle, our resource for Lean learning and peer-led knowledge-sharing. LCI is the only organization whose sole focus is improving project results for the industry as a whole through the use of Lean methodologies.

LCI Congress offers us an opportunity to engage with a broad community of passionate professional learners, all struggling to overcome the same chronic challenges. You’ll gain valuable insights you can put into action immediately. For many, this starts with Learning Day (October 19th), a mix of engaging workshops and hands-on simulations where role-playing and detailed training bring Lean tactics and techniques into focus.

Don’t underestimate the potential for learning between sessions. Some of the best insights come from both the planned events and random encounters. At LCI Congress you can participate in a Lean Coffee, meet with allied vendors in the Exhibit Hall, or read up on project stories in the Lean gallery. It’s a low-pressure environment for networking with presenters, coaches, and other industry professionals. The more you do and interact, the more you learn.

(Learn) From Those Who Do

It will take a village to transform our industry, an industry entrenched with siloed expertise and fraught with miscommunication and mistrust. Not to mention the challenges posed by a diminishing skilled workforce. The Lean transformation is more than any single company or organization can undertake alone. For the past 23 years, LCI’s yearly Congress assembles a village of Lean enthusiasts, champions, and coaches from across the US (and beyond), focused on leveling imbalances in Lean competencies and improving project outcomes for all industry stakeholders.

I count myself lucky as a beneficiary of this yearly pilgrimage. I describe Congress as a firehose approach to learning, and yet somehow I always walk away energized and ready to leverage new insights. Here are a few gems that stand out from my past Congress experiences:

  • “There is Nothing Soft about Soft Skills” – I don’t recall who said this, but it’s so true! People skills are hard to master and in short supply, particularly for an industry that prioritizes technical skills and often focuses on results over process. Lean practitioners prioritize Respect for People as a guiding principle and look for ways to improve our processes to deliver more value and minimize waste.

  • “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective?” – a gem shared by a colleague. This especially resonated with me, a recovering perfectionist, because I’d rather not choose. Undoubtedly, a desire to prove a point can undermine my ability to collaborate effectively, gain buy-in, or solicit valuable input from others. I try to remember this simple question when my preferences don’t align with my team’s.

  • “Creating, Managing & Sustaining a Lean Organization.” This influential course was led by David MacKay (Milestone Lean Consulting) and Alex Gururajan (Haley & Aldrich) during the 2020 Congress Learning Day. David and Alex helped me think strategically about how to drive Lean deeper into my organization. Their A3 approach to defining a Lean Strategy was something I leveraged right away.

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of coaching! A growing number of speakers reinforce this point. Afterall, pursuing Lean entails new habits and a subtle mind-shift, both of which are best navigated with the support of coaches. Whether you elect to develop coaches within your organization or hire external consultants, your Lean efforts will suffer without an effective coaching strategy and coaches. The 2020 Congress included a virtual exhibitor “booth” staffed by Lean Coaches eager to respond to burning questions. I was a frequent visitor and look forward seeing the coaches in person this October.

Do you have time for a Live Lab? Hint: the correct answer is yes. Live Labs are brief high-impact sessions where peers demonstrate a specific tactic or technique that earned them a spot in the lineup. This year, Live Labs are offered during the “Core Program” October 20 & 21 (Wednesday and Thursday).

Have you taken a Gemba Walk lately? During Congress you can “go to the work” to see Lean in action and meet seasoned Lean leaders who walk the talk. These tours often include job site trailers where the visual management part of Lean is on display. If you sign up for one (Friday, October 22), be sure to think of a few open-ended questions to ask during your walk. The hardest part is selecting which project you’ll go see from the four options in Phoenix.

Let’s not forget about the keynote speakers! They are always a reliable source of inspiration at LCI Congress. This year, I look forward to learning from Dennis Doran and General Stan McChrystal. Here are some takeaways I gained from other Congress keynotes in recent years:

  • 2018 – Retired Navy Captain David Marquet and author of “Turn the Ship Around”. Captain Marquet taught us that projects are often successful when leadership leans back rather than leaning in. By stepping back, leaders allow others to step forward with information, expertise, and ideas of their own.

  • 2019 – Greg McKeown – Author of “Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” Greg reminds us that “if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will”, and the trap of thinking every task is important limits our ability to be effective at the things we care about most. His strategy for a “disciplined pursuit of less” resonates with Lean’s emphasis on activities that add value and reduce waste.

  • 2020 – Tom Wujec’s “base camp” strategy for innovation helped me rethink ways to foster Lean deployment across departments and diverse project teams. While the entire company may be striving to reach the summit (some version of a high-performing Lean operation), not every team or team member needs to achieve all the milestones leading to the summit. Certain milestones won’t apply to the entire organization, and that’s okay so long as everyone aligns towards reaching the summit.

  • 2020 – Peter Skillman (Amazon Web Services) highlighted the importance of seeking “two-way gates” to support innovation. As Lean practitioners, we’re always looking for low-risk opportunities to test a new tactic or solution. Two-way gates allow you to test ideas and still reverse course without harming the company or project. A fear of failure can limit learning opportunities, so celebrate your two-way gates when you find them.

While Congress can feel a bit like a firehose approach to learning, it’s also a prime opportunity to expand your network of Lean enthusiasts, coaches, and trainers. A real win is meeting one or two professionals you can call on when taking your next steps back home. PRO TIP: Share your Lean goals with another peer at Congress and commit to future check-ins to foster accountability for your professional growth. Or better yet, connect with one of LCI’s Communities of Practice for more peer driven accountability and knowledge sharing all year long.

Go Slow to Go Fast

One word of caution… It’s common to return home from Congress eager to download all of your new Lean knowledge and hit the ground running with your team, but they’ll likely revolt if you do. Share your vision and inspiration but focus on smaller milestones and goals to begin with. Celebrate small wins. Take the time to win hearts and minds to support Lean initiatives. Continue honing your own Lean competencies. Continue learning-by-doing your way to bigger wins and breakthrough results.

So, what lessons stuck with you from past Congresses? And what do you hope to learn at Congress this year?

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