Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Few Milestones In Lean (When You Know You Might Be Getting It)

If you are someone who reads my blog often, you know how difficult it is to create a culture of continuous, continuous improvement, where improvements become part of what you do and who you are as a company. The only constant is change. All "standardized" means is "for now".

Remember that lean is hard. Period. Anyone you hear say "gee, lean is fun" ain't really doing it. It takes time and persistence. Anyone in their right mind would stop. Every lean leader I know has days when they are considering quitting to go sell encyclopedias door-to-door. The trouble is, you need to capture every heart and mind, and it doesn't happen at our pace, it happens at their pace. Especially if you don't have a huge lever to use (like the ship is sinking, which really helps move things along). I recommend you forgo lean events in favor of teaching people to see and solve problems (overburden in the form of 8 wastes) in their own work. Start with early adopters, and then work your tail off every day to try and convince others. While you are doing this, the late adopters are fighting every step of the way, simply because you haven't convinced them of the value yet. Every lean leader I know will spend some time or another in the fetal position, talking to the floor, "why didn't I become an astronaut like my Mom wanted me to?"

Then it happens. push turns into pull. It is almost like climbing a mountain, and you've reached the summit, and suddenly it gets easier. 

In my daily work, I get terribly excited every once in a while when I see certain things happen on other people's lean journeys. These things are subtle, but are a signal to the long suffering lean leader that things are looking up.

1. Someone walks up to the A3 board, grabs a marker and writes the title of an improvement they want to lead. They are sick and tired of some waste they have been living with, want to pull a team and go after it A3 style (using the DMAIC, leveraging diversity of thinking & gaining consensus). This happened last week & I witnessed it first hand. Lexie was sick & tired of the computer program used with some piece of analytical equipment freezing up randomly. She has lived with it for quite a while, but was done. I call this a "healthy disrespect for the current condition". Lexie has led plenty of improvements using A3 in the past, and she decided she was not going to do the non-value added work of rebooting and waiting anymore. I think I scared here alittle with how excited I got when she grabbed the marker. I view this act as ownership, not employee-ism (I just work here). When this happens over and over, you are on your way.
2. Someone gets blown out of the water at the A3 closing. When you start A3, it is like tee ball. Simple improvements, usually in the form of employee suggestions, to get people used to the process of A3 and Yokoten (sharing what they learn at the closing). The closings are scary because people are often afraid of public speaking (just picture everyone in their underwear). For the first year or so (say 50-100 A3s), everyone claps politely at the end, and high fives the leader. It is definitely a feel good moment. After awhile, as the improvements get better and harder, eventually there will be a closing that can't close. Someone in the audience asks a really smart question that makes it obvious the A3 team did DAIMC instead of DMAIC (jumped to solutions) and the project has to stay on the board. Show me a group of people who respectfully challenge each other and I will show you a team that wins much more often than it loses. When I did A3 in my own company, the A3 team knew they needed to be well prepared for the closing. If not, the project was staying on the board. Nothing personal. Just respect. This might happen if there weren't more than one countermeasure proposed, or if they didn't do a thorough job of root cause analysis. When closings get more difficult, you know you are on your way.
3. Things just happen without you. In the beginning, lean happens only when the leader is involved, and only when everyone is not "busy" (which is never). Then, after 100 A3s or so, you realize that lean is going to keep happening whether you are there or not. I can remember going on a trip for two weeks, coming back, and walking through our building with my mouth open, observing all of the changes that happened while I was away. I realized that instead of being the gas pedal, I was now the brake! I think I was actually slowing people down! Ultimately, that realization led me to begin work on the company university, lean development, and working to teach our customers lean.

The morale of the story is chin up, hang in there, keep plugging. It is SO worth it in the end. Better than selling encyclopedias door-to-door.

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