Sunday, June 16, 2013

Your Lean Strategy & Building Your Garden



I've been thinking quite a bit about how similar building a garden is to executing a lean business strategy. Think about the energy and effort (and eventual payoff) that goes into both of these loves of my life.


Each year, my vision is definitely clear enough. Lettuce, 2 or 3 different types of tomatoes and peppers (hot!), corn, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, string beans and, of course pumpkins. The target condition is crystal clear in my head. Eggplant parmigiana, pumpkins for my friends & family in October, corn on the cob in the gazebo in August. Cheeseburgers with tomatoes, lettuce and jalapeƱos in July. Same with our lean journey: A culture of people taking ownership in their processes and lives, not throwing sweat or money at demand and overburden. A population of experts continuously learning and teaching. A true learning organization. 


Most of the heavy lifting happens before a seed or a plant goes into the ground. How many of what will go where? The soil needs to be tilled over and over. This is the principle of nemawashi. Proceed slowly, consider all options, gain consensus, implement rapidly. When the plants and seeds are planted, don't expect every single one to take. Some do. Some you need to nurture. Some you need to prod every day. As you plant the seeds of your vision, don't expect everyone to blindly buy-in. You can't communicate too much. Do NOT give up on anyone. People will line up behind you when they understand the value of what you are teaching and how it impacts what they do. My garden vision will not be realized without mosquitoes, rabbits, blisters and sunburn. Proceed slowly, consider all options, gain consensus, implement rapidly.


The garden is not something you tend to once a week. It is every single day. Weed, fertilize, water, prune, pick, tie-up tomatoes. To demonstrate the true value of heijunka, take about 10 days off from weeding. Instead of pulling them out with a couple of fingers, plan on 4 or 5 hours of pulling fistfuls. 20-30 minutes first thing in the morning every single day is a labor of love. 5 hours in the hot sun after all hell has broken loose not so much. Same with kaizan activity. 20 minutes every day vs. periodic 3 day "events" in a conference room with sticky notes. Then everybody goes back to work until the next one. When it's finally time for the next event, you usually have some weeding to do. Or, there may be a checklist of weeds (to-dos) that didn't the team didn't get to that someone will have to go back and pull after everyone goes back to their "regular jobs".

My first garden, many years ago, yielded tomatoes the size of golf balls, corn with plenty of missing kernels, and squash and cucumbers that strangled my peppers and eggplant. Over many years, I've learned what to plant next to what, what to fertilize with, and when and when not to water. Next year's garden is going to have the benefit of this year's learning.  My loyal readers know how important yokoten is to me! There should be zero learning without teaching. Great improvements should not occur in a vacuum....ever. Today's learning needs to benefit tomorrow's A3 teams.

If I am consistently diligent in my weeding, pruning, fertilizing, stake-tying and watering, the harvest is memorable. My vision is realized! A cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and jalapeno in July!  

The picture above is my very own labor of love!!

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