Friday, May 23, 2003

Womack and Jones, part 2

Some emails are more useful than others. Exhibit A was a bulk message today from Jim Womack and Dan Jones on the publication of a second edition of “Lean Thinking” (currently just available at Lean Enterprise Institute web site).

In their summary reflections on what they’ve learned about Lean in the seven years since the first edition came out, they include the following in today's email:

Find A Change Agent: We hope this person is you or that you are lucky enough to work for one. However, we've discovered that there are really two roles involved in creating permanent change: pushing the old ways aside and firmly installing the new way as a business system. In the most successful implementations we've observed, the visible Change Agent was assisted by a system builder - sometimes behind the scenes - who methodically put all the elements of organization and method in place so the new system continued to improve even after the Change Agent moved on. In the absence of the System Builder, results often last only as long as the Change Agent is in charge.
This really intrigues me. It says there are likely at least two different skill sets required in a lean transformation. One to shake things up, the other to re-solidify the mess in a sustainable lean system.
Utilize Policy Deployment: We have found this step the hardest to master even in our own non-profit organizations. And we've also found that a failure to rigorously define and deploy policy at the outset has been the root cause of every failed initiative. Our conclusion is that this truly the key heavy-lifting job for the CEO and that it never gets easier as long as an organization is traveling through a changing market (which surely defines the path we all must follow.) At the same time, we've found that the plans so laboriously developed in the deployment exercise are soon in need of modification. As a senior Toyota executive once pointed out, "Planning [in the form of policy deployment] is invaluable but the actual plans are soon worthless." His point was that the real gain from the rigorous process is that every part of the organization is forced to become aware of the effect of its own actions on every other part so that unworkable projects are deselected at the outset and all approved projects are developed with a viewpoint for the whole organization.
I missed this point entirely in my earlier readings of the book. I learned it, however, as Wiremold graciously allowed me to be part of their Lean efforts. It is a deeply profound concept, as even Womack and Jones acknowledge above. It is the compass, however, that orients potentially scattered lean efforts into a business breakthrough effort.
Events since the launch of Lean Thinking amply confirm our long-held view that managers will try anything easy that doesn't work before they will try anything hard that does. The good news is that the disasters of recent years in pursuing worthless easy things have prepared all of us to tackle the one hard thing (lean thinking) that always works.
Ouch. But true. Business conditions force us, as never before, to eliminate waste to survive.

If you’ve never read “Lean Thinking”, please do so. If you’ve read it, join me in ordering the second edition. I look forward to the added material.

I hope this is helpful.Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

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