Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lean Horse Race

Most companies want to get results fast. There is a strong push to get results quickly or more importantly to impact the bottom line immediately. If the results are not achieved quickly, we may rush into actions to get the results. This more than likely includes reorganizing, moving people around or taking short cuts like layoffs for quick impact. Other commonly used tactics for getting quick results include plant shutdowns, outsourcing, budget slashing (travel, training, R&D, etc), playing cash flow games and financial shuffles to polish the numbers.

Unfortunately, prevalent management thinking seems to be locked into short term thinking mode. Just look to the business news.

The lean approach is a proven way to get results but it is not easy to implement nor is it as fast as many would like. Many companies that turn to the lean manufacturing approach want to get lean fast.

Even among those who promote the lean approach, there are differences of opinion on the best path, the right focus and on speed. Some of us look to get the low hanging fruit with kaizen blitz while others of us preach the slow and steady approach by building the foundation first. Some of us push the use of lean tools first while others push the thinking behind the tools first. Some of us consider the value stream map as the center of the lean approach while others view it as just another lean tool.

We even see cycles where certain lean aspects are hot topics. This happened with kaizen, 5S, Kanban, lean office, hoshin kanri, lean accounting, value stream maps and A3 thinking. These cycles do not change their value only their buzz factor.

No doubt that results are important but which way is best?

There is an old Japanese saying by Matsuo Basho, “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” We need to find our own path that works for us while heading in the right direction.

As for speed: Which is better, a fast horse or a slow horse?

It all depends on whether you’re headed in the right direction or not.


Tim McMahon said...

Good post. Lean for me is more about the process or path you take not necessarily about the results. You will get those. If you only focus on the numbers you will certatinly fail especially if you don't understand financial reporting in a lean context. The numbers themselves can sometimes lead to poor decisions. Go see, work on the improvement. Then you will see the results. Often a very trailing indicator so you must have patience.

Mike Wroblewski said...

Well said Tim! It's too easy to game the numbers or think short term for the sake of quick results which will lead to failure. Patience along with seeking greater understanding of the process is a better path.

Jamie Flinchbaugh said...

Great post.

Carrying on the horse race analogy, you don't put the horse in the gate and start the race before defining the type and distance of the race.

As that applies to lean, you don't want to start your lean journey without defining where you are going with it and why you are doing it. IF you are doing it for just cost savings, that's fine. You will get costs savings. You won't go as far as an organization that has a bigger "why" answer, but if that's your reason, it is better to define that as the reason.

Know the race before you open the gates.