Mean lean, average lean : on which side to lean on ?

I remember that day very well.

You do not quit your job everyday.

Especially not if you quit on the day of one of your greatest achievement !

I quit on that day, more than eight years ago. On the day the regulatory agency left our company, one day earlier that expected. And they were quite satisfied !!

In fact, they came in expecting horror stories and left early because they could not find anything. Why bother then ?

Why indeed ?

We had great quality systems. Great documentation to prove it. But most of all, we had worked hard towards building a culture of quality. And I was humbled and surprised to realize that I had been a part of that change.

I believed in it. I lived it. I communicated it. And I acted accordingly.

But most importantly, I was not alone in this endeavour. We all did.

And a few months before I left, the Lean Machine had been put in place.

I should have stayed. I did not. In fact, this was one of the big question at the exit interview with our VP : “Why did you not jump on this wonderful boat ? »

Like I did not want to !!!!

I always thought the Lean way, the Toyota way, the Deming way or what have you, all these trends were first and foremost aimed at improving quality by using the ultimate tools an organization could have : humans.

Reading a recent issue of Quality Progress (boy, what a great mag!!), I came across an article than reminded me of this in a very eloquent way.  “Developing people to achieve results”. Oh yes, with specific tools but Lean is not only tools. The tools are available everywhere. That does not make your organization a Toyota!

Tools are readily put in place. A brief training, a bit of coaching …et voilà !

But sustainable improvement does not, will not happen if you focus on tools. IT will work for a while. Short term successes will probably generate some bonuses (ah bonuses!!!) but if the Lean initiative is based on tools you are doomed!

Helping people in improving their thinking skills is the center of  any quality improvement program. This is so much more important than mere training. It involves a lot of management effort on a continuous basis to support the implementation of those great “tools”.

It involves also thinking about improvement as a continuous spectrum of effort going from personnel improvement to team improvement to organization improvement. Peter Senge had it all in his seminal book “The Fifth Discipline” :

  1. personal mastery
  2. mental models
  3. shared vision
  4. team learning
  5. system thinking

Sooooo similar to many of Deming 14 points. Or Crosby Zero Defect 14-step program. Humans are the key !

Thinking about implementing Lean programs without a strong emphasis on management philosophy will produce an “average” Lean success.

I still hear regularly about these Operational Excellence initiatives. Never about Organizational Excellence. And never about Quality Transformation. Well, almost never.

Oh, yes, it does work!

Oh yes, it requires more work as it never ceases !

Oh yes, it it NOT a result but rather a journey !

But it is worth it.

Oh, I was about to forget. My answer to the my aforementioned VP’s question :

Why didn’t I jump on the Lean boat ?

Because I did not feel in my bones that the management team was into it. Oh, they certainly leaned on the side of the tools but their heart was not in it.

They did not lean on the right side of the Lean Machine.

I must admit they achieved amazing results ! For a time.

I must admit they improved tremendously. For a while.

Eight years later, their organization was really lean. No more fat. But a lot of meat was gone too.

Good people left. As expected after a major change initiative.

But a lot of good people stayed. Mentally resigned and doing “quality” without really having any heart in it.

I have yet to hear from the shop floor any positive comments as far as the “quality mentality” is concerned. The story is different coming from executives. Results are present to demonstrate the righteousness of the Lean implementation of eight years ago.

Toyota had a good run with the “Toyota way”. Until the rational, the shared vision started to fade….and the recalls of the recent years hopefully brought them back in line.

Senge had it all right. System thinking. Nothing about implementing business improvement tools. They are “part” of it. Not the heart of it.

Why did I quit ? Because the heart of it was absent.

I smiled as I leaned toward the exit as I looked back at my VP and felt I was making the right decision, following my heart.

I am still smiling.

 

Are you?

 

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