This weekend while working on a particularly challenging home repair project I had the opportunity to work with a two-part epoxy. These are adhesives that create very strong bonds that hold up in many environments and conditions. But they do require proper preparation and handling. Here are some notable similarities between working with two-part epoxies and the successful deployment of Lean management into organizations.
The mixing of the two parts makes it work. One part is the epoxide resin, a very reactive chemical and the second is a hardening agent. When the two parts are mixed together, they form a single adhesive, hardening to create a bond. In Lean management we have the technical side and the people side. Some refer to them as the two pillars: continuous improvement and respect for people. One could say that the tools enable changes to our physical reality, elevating our standards and methods, while human will and thought are what set and maintain these new standards.
Preparation of the surfaces is essential. Unlike conventional adhesives, you can’t just directly apply the contents of two-part epoxy to the surfaces that you’re gluing together. It’s true that many adhesives benefit from bonding to clean and dry surfaces. However, two-party epoxy is so strong that if used to bond a bracket on a painted metal surface it will peel the paint off under strain. Steel surfaces that are scratched and uneven will bond better than smooth and polished ones. Epoxy reaches into the uneven surfaces for a stronger grip. Deploying Lean management also requires peeling the paint, sanding overly smooth surfaces, and revealing the roughness underneath.
Once you mix the two parts, apply without delay. Two-part epoxies set after a certain amount of time depending on the temperature. Industrial epoxies may require heat or a few hours to set. Epoxies for household use cure in five minutes at room temperature. Once the two parts are mixed together, the chemical reaction is on. It’s not meant to be left in a container for later use. It will harden. Apply right away. Likewise with Lean.
You can add color. It’s common for woodworkers to add color to the epoxy to match the materials being glued together. Creators often add bright colors to epoxy when using it as filler for furniture or other art objects. The color doesn’t affect the adhesion. Likewise in Lean, we are free to add our own color to the system, as long as we don’t tinker with the one-to-one mix of the two essential parts.
Use a disposable stir stick. Two-part epoxies are not difficult to use. Mix two equal parts, stir vigorously, apply to prepared surfaces, clamp them together or otherwise do not disturb while it sets. However, the stink and stickiness of a two-part epoxy can be hard to remove from your hands or clothes. The same is true for Lean deployment. With apologies to external sensei everywhere, you are the disposable stir stick.
Deployed with proper care, preparation, and appreciation that the two parts once mixed are non-separable, Lean management can be a quick-setting, versatile and powerful bonding agent for an organization.