Sunday, March 16, 2003

Two Useful Lessons

Just returned late Saturday from five fascinating days with my oldest son as he graduated from US Army Basic Training. Among the many, many things I learned and observed, two are very applicable to the implementation of a Lean system.

The Criticality of Attitude

I asked David what was the most important thing he learned in boot camp. Drill Seargents, rifle skills, obeying orders; all of these struck me as possible answers. I was completely wrong.

"It was all about attitude, Dad," was his immediate and forceful reply. He explained.

He learned that if he went into a difficult task with an attitude of expectancy, saying "I can do this," he succeeded. Armed with this view of the entire training, he did well and actually enjoyed basic training. Yeah, I know, you're not supposed to enjoy boot camp. But he did.

Conversely, to a person, he saw that others in his unit who expected it to be tough found it to be hard indeed. Those who expected it to be impossible dropped out. The task was physically doable. But those who did not view it as such failed miserably.

In terms of language, David made a well-grounded assessment that he, a young man of normal physical and mental skills, could indeed accomplish all the tasks required in Basic Training. He grounded this assessment based on the extensive experience of the Army in training all sorts of people. Thus, he took the action of believing that he could do it. Make the Assessment. Ground the Assessment. Take Action.

In implementing change, eliminating waste, driving quality metrics upward, we are each faced with the same demands. Can we do it? Is it even possible?

It all comes down to attitude. Can I ground the assessment that I can indeed do it? Will I take action on a well-grounded assessment?

The Power of Focus

As I watched 800 young soldiers, male and female, of every ethnic stripe, mostly between the ages of 18 and 25 march in perfect formation, responding perfectly to orders, it hit me what had occured in a short 9-week training.

While an extreme example of focus, it shows what can happen when other distractions are set aside. With virtually no outside concerns for the training period and nearly 24 hour supervision by drill instructors, this group of raw recruits was transformed into an effective unit. I got to converse with a number of David's new pals and was impressed with them as well. It was rapid change on a massive scale.

Lean companies have made their changes by focus. Mind you, nothing like boot camp (and I'm not suggesting that), but still by taking one important task (e.g. shifing a process from batch to single-piece flow) at a time. These companies set aside other distractions to allow a team to do one thing and do it well. For a few days or a week, they accomplish significant change. It can be done. It takes a goal and leadership. The Army has figured it out. We can too.

I'm seeking to go after the busy week in front of me with an expectant outlook and focus on the key two things I have to do. I hope you can do the same.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

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