Friday, May 21, 2004

Jim Womack Review

Wisdom from Jim Womack


What a cool teleconference yesterday with Jim Womack, author of Lean Thinking.  75 minutes of intense discourse on systems, excellence and companies.  Here are the highlights from my notes:

  • What is the key building block for a Lean system?  It is simple: seeing business as a set of processes.  Then continually improve each process.  There is a relentlessness in this statement that few of us full comprehend.  Yet, that is a key.
  • What does a successful change agent look like?  In Womack's view, change agents come in many sizes and shapes, yet they have one thing in common; the effective change agent says, privately and publicly, "The future will be different because of me."  The change agent truly believes that he/she can eliminate waste continuously.  Womack says, "That person is at the head of the improvement parade."  And then they do it.
  • What does a change agent need to understand?  The best change agents have an innate understanding of processes, Womack emphasized.  While some change agents get things done by influence and rhetoric, the best ones, the ones worth paying attention to, understand and love processes. 
  • So what does the change agent really DO?  Womack cited the best example he knew of, Art Byrne, who led Wiremold in a ten-year transformation.  He observed that Art:

1.       Act with certainty

2.       Start simple

3.       Avoid programs

4.       Keep it going

I've met Art, heard him speak for about 5 hours total and met a lot of Wiremold people.  It really is about this simple.

  • So is a Lean Transformation about techniques or people?  This is a laughable question in Womack's experience.  It is all about people!!!  Lean only happens if it is sustained.  Sustaining only happens in a strong culture.  And the culture is far more important than the technique. 
  • Is Lean top down or bottom up?  Both, says Womack.  It is top down, in that there needs to be someone with clout who can sponsor and support it.  But it is primarily bottom up, because it is at the work process level where all the expertise resides.  Note:  not with the engineers...but with the people who physically and daily touch the product. 
  • So do you need the CEO to buy in?  Interestingly, Womack says no.  She/he should be at least OK with it.  But CEO buy in is not necessary.  Rather, the person who has most influence in operations needs to be passionate...this person is the key. 


These are my key notes that I thought you'd be interested to see.  Read other summaries on the call by Effern and by Hal Macomber (who set the call up).  Note that if you missed the call, Hal recorded it and you can go listen to it...follow the directions at Hal's blog.  It will be worth an hour of your time and a long-distance phone call to listen to.  My heartfelt thanks to Hal and Greg Howell for organizing the call. 


I hope this is helpful.  It was a super learning experience for me.



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