All About Yeah-Buts

This article is an appendix to the Helix article. A “Yeah, But…” occurs when an improvement plan is presented in an improvement-team meeting, and some one raises their hand and says “Yeah, but…”!

I used to hate “Yeah, Buts…”! Either I or some other team member had gone to a great deal of effort to develop a plan to present in this team-meeting, only to get it shot down by a “Yeah, But…”! Then, one day I realized that the “Yeah, But…” was in fact the unrecognized systemic constraint regarding why the system in question did not work very well! Obviously, if it had been recognized, it would have been considered in the presented plan!

However, though unrecognized by owners or management, the very thing that was brought up as the “Yeah, But…” was in fact the REAL systemic constraint. Just because management did not see it does not mean that everyone else on the shop floor (or in the back office) didn’t either. They all knew about it but never really addressed it! It was typically viewed as having existed forever as well as being needed forever (probably as a work-around within the present system which they typically had no control over), so it was never worth discussing… other than to update it.

Well, that day that I finally recognized that the “Yeah, But…” was the real systemic constraint, I also realized that we had just exited one iteration on the Helix and were about to go screaming into another iteration with the actual constraint in hand! This entailed scrapping, or at least tabling, the previous plans and quickly developing new plans with the critical information bubbled up by the “Yeah, But…”! (The “bubbled up” is like the “fizz” in a just-opened soda pop bottle… the bubbles were not visible before, but now they are all rising to the top! It’s like the REAL constraint is jumping up and down and yelling “Pick Me!… Pick Me!”)

The ability to quickly recognize these transitions and happily, even gleefully, jump to a new plan with the actual constraints now in hand produces tornado-like improvement!

Bring on the “Yeah, Buts…”!

As a matter of fact, these unseen, invisible, but very real constraints are the main reason it takes four to six iterations to go from a process disaster to a self-sustaining process: not only does no one person know the actual, complete door-to-door process, the “Yeah, Buts…” are typically maintained in individual desktop computers or in individual toolboxes… invisible to the process creators! The reason that the initial iterations on the Helix produce such large gains is because you rapidly flush out the “Yeah, Buts…” and can thereby design your process to handle them… either by acknowledging or by denying their reality and power to constrain your process. In fact, flushing out “Yeah… Buts…” as quickly as you can enables and even drives rapid-cycling, tornado-like CPI Helixes! As you rapidly flush out the “Yeah, Buts…” and redesign and re-implement your process, your process will become much faster, cleaner, more productive, and a whole lot less hassle!

This is what we mean by “tornado-like improvement iterations.” “Yeah, Buts…” are actually your friend! 😉

Implementation caveat: The care and feeding of “Yeah… Buts…” is a very REAL though invisible (to senior management anyway) source of job security. After all… the existing system has relied on them for years (which is where they got their power in the first place). Clear, open, honest and respectful communication is pre-requisite to systematically eliminating “Yeah… Buts….” Without it, the “Yeah… But…” caretakers will just “hunker down” and directly or indirectly resist change. Improperly handled, this issue becomes a significant, chronic (and frequently invisible) source of resistance to change. Just remember… you are trying to eliminate the “Yeah… Buts” not the caretakers!

Whereas “Yeah… Buts…” may be the insidious enemy of mission-critical, organization-wide processes… they are also, very frequently, the friend and ally of those who maintain them. Handle with respect and gratitude… after all, these people have been keeping your organization going for years in the absence of a better system… many of them with little or no recognition whatsoever.