I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in Egypt. On our way to the Great Pyramid, our group of twelve had a lively conversation about the builders of the pyramids. There were a couple of theories in our group about this. Some of my co-travelers believe slaves built the pyramids, as I think I learned in high school. Our tour guide Hatem, however, told us a different story. He told us people who worshiped the pharaohs and kings built the pyramids voluntarily as part of their worship and respect.

Needless to say, we didn’t wind up with an indisputable story on the pyramids being built by slaves or by devout followers. But I did take away something very interesting from Hatem about how the relationship between the worker and the customer correlates to the quality and outcome of the product.

There are multiple levels of relationships people have with other people. The different relationships they have can (and generally do) have an impact on the product being built.

Typically, if someone is asked to build something for a friend, they will certainly put good efforts into it and attempt to make sure the product is of good quality. If they are to build the same thing for someone they love, they will likely put more energy and effort into the work and end up with something of even higher quality or better outcome. Additionally, they may not be asked to build, but rather build it voluntarily out of love for the other person. If they build something for someone they worship, the amount of concern, care and dedication going into the product will be unmatched. The driving force within will be stronger because they are fulfilling some aspect of the purpose of life.

How do we get the same quality product in commercial work where the workers are often disconnected from the end user? I think it all ties into one of the fundamental pillars of lean: respect for people. When we use a lean approach to design we involve the end user. The relationship is started. But do we achieve the same results that are achieved when something is being built for a god? What about in construction? What kind of relationship do the workers have with the end users? Is there any sense of obligation to do their best? Or just to do “good enough?” What about the workers that are in support roles – accounting, IT, HR, etc? The workers that don’t actually touch the final product, but support the building of it? What kind relationship do they have with the end user?

Respect for people is a behavior. When practiced widely in an organization, this behavior creates a culture that respects people. When an organization consistently behaves with the highest respect for others (including the end user), it will certainly be visible in the end product.