Lean Deployment is Coming Into Its Own

Companies are finally looking more at the big picture when it comes to lean. They may have trouble bringing that picture into focus, but at least they are beginning to see it.

            That’s the conclusion I come to after speaking with Michael Kuta, who sees lean from the consultant’s perspective. Mike is managing partner of Productivity, Inc. (And no, I wasn’t speaking to someone in my own company. Productivity Press and Productivity, Inc. were, at one time, under the same ownership. But Productivity, Inc. has since been spun off as a separate business. We publish books, they do consulting, training and conferences.)

            Most companies he and the other consultants work with, Mike says, are already doing something with lean, to some degree. But they’re hitting a wall.

            One problem, he says, is deployment. Companies can’t seem to move from their vision or strategy to the workplace, with the result that “employees are not working on those workplace activities that are directly supporting the strategy.”

            That, he says, suggests “a continued lack of discipline in standard work.”

            Related to deployment is the issue of project management, where Mike also sees a lack of discipline.

            “I don’t see organizations having a structured way to manage the daily activities of their change process and waste elimination. I don’t see organizations having a way to monitor and measure the influence or impact of their projects,” he comments.

            These trends have changed the consulting business. “When people call us today, the days of them calling here and wanting to talk about ‘can you do changeover reduction workshops’ – those days are pretty much gone. It’s ‘can you help us deploy and manage the process?’ That’s the big call out there now,” he says.

            Another problem in lean implementations, Mike adds, is that, to support a transformation, you need “a critical mass of people who understand what needs to be done so they can make a contribution.” As a result, he notes, “we see a lot of people calling here today, not really asking for individual tools, but asking for an educational curriculum – the whole package.”

            To deal with these trends, Mike and the other consultants try to “position the needed change under an umbrella of leverage, wanting to leverage all the good things a company is doing. Because most organizations have some kind of improvement plan, we don’t advocate going back to zero and starting over again.”

            Instead, they follow a kind of variation on PDCA (plan, do, check, act). It’s more check, act, plan, do: Check what the company is currently doing, make the necessary adjustments to get them back on track and move forward.

            I’ve often criticized people and organizations that view lean simply as a set of tools, so I’m encouraged by what Mike is saying. True commitment to, and involvement in, lean is still pretty rare, but if companies are looking more at overall deployment vs. kaizen events, we may be headed in the right direction.



Ralph Bernstein said...

12/11/2006 6:49:08 PM
Re: Lean Deployment is Coming Into Its Own
By: dcbliss

Thank goodness. What Ralph is describing here is something that has frustrated me with my encounters with Lean consulting groups - specifically, that they come in with a set program, without regard for the existing improvement activities, and have an overwhelming "lean transformation" vision that may usurp or override good work that's already been done, or is in progress. The key is the improvment culture - if it's not there, it does need to be initiated. But if it is there, it shouldn't be thrown away, with something new put in its place. I'm encouraged by this post, and I hope the thought spreads throughout the Lean consulting community. We should be helping organizations get better, not simply pursuing our own agendas.

Ralph Bernstein said...

12/16/2006 12:42:48 PM
Re: Lean Deployment is Coming Into Its Own
By: systcraig

I am glad to see more emphasis on this subject. Every company should have an overall lean deployment process. The process should include tools and methods for managing the deployment of Lean through project work. I have worked with numerous companies that have indeed recognized the need for an improved deployment process, including improved project management. Unfortunately I have also sen them turn to overly complicated traditional project management software tools to satsify their project management needs. These tools are met with resistance and ultimately fail.

This does not have to be the case. Lean initiatives are conducted by everyday people, running everyday projects, in everyday companies, often at multiple locations. Everyday people are well-trained in their respective operational crafts - not well trained in professional project management. A typical Lean workgroup will contain many people who are good at what they do, but who may have little tolerance for software complexity.

Companies who understand the association between lean deployment and the need for improved project management will recognize the benefit of using some type of project software. When they do, they need to look for software tools that are very easy to use, so the everyday people managing lean projects can use the software to monitor their own progress right alongside the progress of their peers. They should also look for software that makes it easy for the project teams to share information so learning is accelerated. People are usually happy to use tools that help but often reluctant to use tools that are a burden. It is a shame to see companies working so hard to improve get sidetracked by choosing the wrong tools. Part of creating a vigorous continuous improvement culture is choosing the methods and tools appropriate for the environment.

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