Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Create a Continually Improving Management System - not the Perfect Management Solution

My response to a LinkedIn question*
> Hi everyone, i have a question in relation to Lean, what steps will i
> take if i wanted to apply Lean to an engineering firm?

In most instances I think a PDSA approach to the approach to use it best. Test out various options in parts of the company. See what works. Build and improve the process and spread it more widely.

There are some advantages to a wholesale, uniform CEO led unified effort. But the drawbacks of a centrally driven process to start a transformation without a powerful CEO (or close, COO...) directly involved is likely to have problems.

Instead try approaches on smaller scale, build on what works, adjust based on experience... Depending on how big you are many times different focus will be needed. What the call center uses and what the research department uses may be fairly different. There should be unified principles that hold true everywhere but honestly those are almost always useless words at first (in the cases where they actually start as real guiding principles that is great - it just seems rare in my experience).

A decade later maybe a company will really be guided by respect for people, data based decision making, going to the gemba, customer focus, continual improvement... And those really will be the core behind some fairly different processes in divergent parts of the company. But at first it is usually just word that don't connect to actions.

Some of the most important things about the initial plans (off the top of my head - I may be forgetting some things...) in my opinions are

  • continual improvement - a rigid approach is likely to fail (unless you get really lucky). Build the plan with the idea that we are putting forth our first approximation and we will be continually evolving this approach. Therefore the plan most importantly needs to be adaptable based on what we learn (more important that being "right" at the start).
  • a focus on experimentation and all that means (providing people training if needed, providing expertise if needed, understanding variation, using data properly...)
  • go to the organization gemba and user gemba
  • focus on accessing what is working and what isn't and adapt
  • respect for people
My suggestions in a post for the Deming Institute blog:
My suggestion in such a case is to start slowly, learn as you go and build on successes. Learn directly from Deming (the books and videos) and from other great books by those that worked with him. My favorites include: The Leader’s Handbook by Peter Scholtes, Fourth Generation Management by Brian Joiner, The Improvement Guide by Gerald Langley, Kevin Nolan, Clifford Norman, Lloyd Provost and Thomas Nolan.

Start using the tools (PDSA, control charts, flowcharts, cause and effect diagrams, visual job instructions, …), focus on respect for people and move toward evidence based decision making. Focus on doing a few things well. Don’t try to do everything at first. Concentrate on getting a few tools and new concepts well understood and effectively used in the organization. Then build from there. As part of this build an appreciation for systems thinking (seeing how interconnected things are is important to moving forward).
* I would link to the LinkedIn discussion but they chose not to provide sensible options (closed group anyway so you couldn't see the conversation). Even so a web site designed with usability in mind could make this work usefully (and use links that would work if the group discussion became public later). It is pitiful how poor huge internet companies are about programing usable websites.