Michael Ballé opens his 1/29/2018 Gemba Coach column with “all methodologies are about making a better use of our minds.” Are they? Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister disagree. In Peopleware, they describe methodologies as follows:
“A Methodology is a general systems theory of how a whole class of thought-intensive work ought to be conducted. It comes in the form of a fat book that specifies in detail exactly what steps to take at any time, regardless of who is doing the work, regardless of where or when. The people who write the Methodology are smart. The people who carry is out can be dumb. They never have to turn their brains to the ON position. All they do is start on page one and follow the Yellow Brick Road, like happy little Munchkins, all the way from the start of the job to its successful completion. The Methodology makes all the decisions, the people make none.”
DeMarco and Lister contrast methodologies, as excuses not to think, with methods, that help execute tasks faster and better than with just your common sense. Methodologies are 12-step processes that you and your team are mandated to follow; methods, on the other hand, are tools in a kit that you pull out as needed based on your own judgment.
In manufacturing, consultants with a methodology who assess a factory always arrive at the same recommendations, like, “Draw Value Stream Maps and run Kaizen events.” What they should have done instead is immerse themselves in the business, technical, and human issues and recommend specific, ad-hoc solutions.
Methodologies work only when the goal is compliance with external mandates. A methodology will let you check all the boxes and be certified to ISO 9001, Class A ERP, or as a Lean Supplier. But there is no methodology that works every time to reduce lead times, enhance quality, or increase productivity. Everything you have learned to date has enriched your set of methods but there is no guarantee that it includes one that works for your current problems. You may have to invent new ones.