Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lean Trick: Creating Some Calm Chaos


You remember the childhood skill of tapping your head and rubbing your belly simultaneously? I remember it as somewhat challenging in third grade (I wasn't all that coordinated).

The updated version of this skill from a lean leadership perspective is to create a culture of calm chaos. Let's first talk about the chaos part. It has been said by Taiichi Ohno that companies that make "even a modest profit" will struggle to do continuous continuous improvement. Conversely, organizations with their backs against the wall are capable of extremely innovative process improvements. The trick is to create a sense of urgency where one seemingly doesn't exist. It is very difficult to manufacture a sense of urgency by doing occasional "kaizan" events. At my company, when I first introduced A3 (rapid kaizan), there were 35 completed in the first year. The next year there were 105, then 185, then 307 the year after that. With 70 people.   This was done by motivating people to LEAD A3s-learn by doing, starting with easy ones. You got kudos for being on A3 teams, but got real credit (metrics) by leading them. This creates a population of people moving processes toward flow every day with a healthy disrespect for the current condition. An organization where people have this sense of urgency is good, controlled, small, temporary snippets of chaos.

In order to get to this point, we needed to make firefighting a negative.We needed to minimize the acts of heroism . "I'm too crazy busy to make improvements!" In my opinion, this is learned behavior that can be unlearned. Make sure that your supervisors, group leaders and team leaders understand that it is not OK to be too busy. Too busy is bad. Most of the busy-ness is the result of doing the 8 wastes. I have officiated football for over 28 years. I notice that the very best football teams at every level are coached by leaders who always seem to be in control. The teams who have coaches that behave erratically play erratically. And usually lose. Your coaches need to demonstrate that they are in total control. Use A3 to eliminate the first signs of firefighting.

This dynamic doesn't happen overnight. Be patient and very persistent. Communicate often. Soon, you will be tapping your head, rubbing your belly, and maybe even running in place!

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