Sunday, June 5, 2016

I Think I'll Go Out and Swim the English Channel

"I've been hearing some really good things about the results thousands of businesses are getting doing this "lean" thing." 

I've thought this through over the weekend. I'll call a meeting and let everyone know we are now lean. Haste makes waste. After the announcement, we'll be on our way. Maybe we'll schedule our first kaizen event next week. Sounds simple enough, we'll just go look for waste and eliminate it. We've got some pretty smart managers, shouldn't be all that hard. 

Back in 1973, when I was 12, my mother decided my four brothers and I should join the swim team. She paid something like $10 for each of us. We walked to the pool, and they gave a swimsuit the size of a small handkerchief. We threw it on, and reported to the swim coach. Keep in mind we were football-basketball-baseball kind of kids, but what the heck, we should have no trouble doing the "swim" thing. We were razor skinny and full of energy. Well, Coach told us to get into the pool and swim from the shallow to the deep end and back. I was good for the trip to the deep end , then I involuntarily started thrashing and hyperventilating. The fight or flight response kicked in, and 10 minutes later, I reached my destination, the shallow end. Phew! That was a tough practice. Sayonara. See you tomorrow. Head to the showers. Worked up quite the appetite for some PB &J. Nope, coach said to swim from the shallow end to the deep end and back 5 more times. That's when my brothers and I decided my mother was out $50. No way in hell we were going to do that 5 more times. Point. Game. Match. Over.

Your lean journey (the green mile) is no different. Sounds good in theory, but way too many people underestimate the degree of difficulty. One suggestion is to apply the concept of heijunka to the implementation of a lean business strategy. Can we just start with a couple of improvements? Ask three people in your company, "if you owned the company, what is one improvement you would make in your job right now?" Then go about the business of helping them pick 3 or 4 others they might need to get it done. DO NOT BE AFRAID to ask that question. Having done it thousands of times in different companies, be prepared to hear a very unselfish, common sense answer. Once this problem is improved, gather as many people as possible and have those people explain what the problem was, who their team was, and what they did to improve it. 

Consider each time you do that one lap in the pool. If you ask 3 people, consider that 3 laps down and back. Work your way up to 3 or 4 laps every week (trust me, your people KNOW 1000% what your problems are). Now the leaders (coaches) can teach the 8 wastes and lean tools in the context of solving real problems. Pretty soon you will begin to develop a spirit of kaizen, where everyone's job is to do their job AND improve their job. 

Once this spirit is built, aim this weapon at policy deployment. Aim it at the problems that become visible as you attempt heijunka in your processes or pull. Without the foundation of a spirit of kaizen to go after the problems that a lean strategy will expose, it is like my brothers and I jumping in the water in 1973 to swim the the English Channel. Bless our hearts.

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