Lean/Agile Pay It Forward

November 21, 2013

pay-it-forward-sign2We have a Pay It Forward Program here at SEP, where we get $50 from the company to do something nice in this season of giving. It can’t go to friends or family; it can’t be just another charitable donation to a .org. Many Pay It Forward participants have bought cups of coffee for strangers, or brought doughnuts to a firehouse, or similar good deeds in the spirit of random acts of kindness. For some reason, I just can’t get random with this program, but I love doing my ‘premeditated’ acts of kindness.

Last year I took my Pay It Forward $50 to a local pharmacy, and explained the program and asked if I could put the money toward an account of someone having trouble paying for their medication. The pharmacist explained that they normally don’t allow people to have payment plans for medication, but they had made an exception for one patient, and they would put my contribution toward that person, a breast cancer patient. Great 🙂

This year while I was at my bank, I asked if there was someone whose account was overdrawn, and could I put Pay It Forward money toward their debt, anonymously on both sides? No, came the answer. There is no policy and no mechanism for that and it would be too awful to stop and think about trying to do something outside the box like that. Nice idea, though, said the teller. Humph. 🙁

I left the bank and went to the pharmacy (a different one from last year). I explained again about the Pay It Forward program, and said that I wanted to help someone who had difficulty paying for their medicine. Oh, yes, said the pharmacist. They have 3 or 4 people who can’t pay for their medication, and the pharmacists themselves help with their own money. He said that he would discuss it with the other pharmacy people, they would choose someone, and they would let me know a little (non-identifying information) about whom the Pay It Forward money would benefit. Fabulous!

What does this have to do with Lean/Agile? This may be a stretch, but I have been thinking about these Pay It Forward experiences in terms of how we encounter Lean/Agile techniques in non-coding life.

Some people, when confronted with something outside their experience, will just categorically reject it. That is obviously not agile, not lean, and not allowing good to happen because your process blocks it completely. This is like the bank. [They may actually have a stake in preventing good from happening, so that they can collect fees.]

Some people, when confronted with something outside their experience, think about it and make allowances and make exceptions to the existing rules. That’s ok; it’s kind of agile, but it is not exactly agile and lean, because you are allowing change, but not embracing change, and not accommodating change in the most efficient way possible. Your process finds ways around a block, but not necessarily the best ways around a block. This is like the pharmacy of last year. The Pay It Forward money went to someone, but was it the person with the most need? We’ll never know.

The pharmacy whose process easily accommodates an unusual request is agile and lean. With a quick meeting, they can decide where to give the Pay It Forward funds to do the most good. The pharmacist did not need a long explanation of the ‘new’ idea, because they had thought outside the box before themselves. In addition to being lean and agile, they are most certainly kind, and that is the way to be, and the kind of people I want to be around. (Thank you!)