One of my all time favourite comedy programmes is Black Adder, which has a certain dry humour and a razor sharp insight into historical events.
One such moment is in an episode of Black Adder goes forth, the series set in the British Trenches of the First World War, when Captain Black Adder discusses with General Melchett the 'Brilliant New Plan' of Field Marshal Haig for the next 'Big Push'.
He correctly predicts the approach when he asks whether the attack will involve climbing out of the trenches and walking very slowly toward the enemy guns, a plan that he comments has been unsuccessfully attempted many times before. General Melchard responds, quite seriously, that it is for this very reason that the enemy will not expect them to do it again and that they'll be caught unaware.
What you will observe in these Organisations are symptoms such as:
1. Multiple initiatives, with so many priorities that there are no priorities
2. Overloaded staff, unable to keep up with the workload being placed upon them
3. Continual reorganisations, with lay-offs a normal part of the annual cycle
4. A Large Transformation Function and ubiquitous Consultants
5. Ever changing and misaligned Priorities, with different functions and areas of the business having seemingly different objectives
The root causes of these symptoms may differ from Organisation to Organisation but common ones that I observe are:
1. Leadership impatience - an inability to allow change and the impacts of a programme to come to fruition, ignoring Kotter's change leadership approach
2. A deficit of Problem solving ability - the inability to truly understand the root causes of the Organisation's poor performance
3. Inadequate Policy Deployment / Hoshin Kanri - unstructured breakthrough improvement planning
4. Poor Daily Management - management attention is spent mostly fire-fighting daily operations
The types of initiatives within the Organisation's improvement programmes will also be very obviously that of a Perennial Poor Performer, with very little focus on waste reduction and Value Stream improvement and a big focus on wage arbitrage, head count reduction and large scale IT solutions. Spreadsheets with FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) analyses will abound and be used to demonstrate the degree of FTE reduction required to meet 'benchmark' cost levels.
The antidote to this is Lean Thinking and I discussed in my earlier article, "The meaning of Lean", how an acronym for Lean can guide the right thinking:
LEAN = Leadership, Excellence, Analysis and No
1. Leadership: In Lean Thinking this is not just for those people provided with a leadership job title but the enablement of everyone within the organisation to take leadership in their own domain. By setting the appropriate boundary conditions, taking a People focussed approach to our business processes and ensuring that everyone is focussed on what the Customer / Consumer perceives as value, we can ensure that daily management assures continuous flow (of products, information, knowledge and services) throughout the Value Stream.
2. Excellence: The pursuit of excellence is absolutely core to Lean Thinking and its continuous pursuit is enabled through some of the key tenets of a Lean Business System. Utilising small batch sizes, continuous flow, built-in-quality and pull systems (not only for products but also information, knowledge and services), based upon the customer demand, daily management drives rapid problem solving and Kaizen. Team members are encouraged to constantly experiment with improvements to the system and through go-to-gemba (go to where the value is added) Leaders are able to coach and act as teachers.
3. Analysis: Lean Thinking has its foundation built on fact based decision making, through the application of A3 Thinking and a short-interval control approach, whereby people are rapidly involved in problem solving, using the appropriate tools (including both the Lean and Six Sigma toolkit), to find the root cause and implement countermeasures. However, experimentation and learning is a major element and therefore 'at-the-gemba' problem solving with 'cardboard engineering' experimentation is common and this approach is not just for the shop-floor but is applicable all the way to the board-room.
4. No: In my experience the 'secret formula' of Lean Thinking is Hoshin Kanri (or Policy Deployment) and the one area that most organisations struggle to apply. Having the courage to say NO to the multitude of opportunities that an organisation has and to have the 'laser-like' focus required to choose only those few things that will truly provide the break-through results is extremely difficult and only a few organisations have the level of discipline and stamina required to truly do this. Without this ability to say no, most businesses tend to overload their people and fail to execute effectively.
Those organisations that have embedded Lean Thinking into their Company Culture have demonstrated superior performance over significant periods of time and prove that Lean is, above everything, about integrating a Principle driven approach to an Organisation's Management Philosophy.
Unfortunately, just like General Melchett and his peers, the Leadership of a large number of Organisations will continue to send their team members (or should I say FTE) marching slowly toward the enemy's guns.
"I aim to promote the global sharing of best practices in the application of Lean Thinking."