Lean – Breaking Through Paralysis
Significant initiatives, including lean, can reach a level of stagnation that eventually cause the project to either lose focus or disappear altogether. Hundreds of books have already been written that reinforce the concept that the company culture will ultimately determine the success or failure of any initiative. A sustainable culture of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and continual improvement requires effective leadership to cultivate and develop an environment that supports these attributes.
When launching any new initiative, we tend to focus on the many positive aspects that will result. Failure is seldom placed on the list of possible outputs for a new initiative. We are all quite familiar with the typical Pro’s and Con’s, advantages versus disadvantages, and other comparative analysis techniques such as SWAT > Strengths, Weakness, Alternatives, Threats)
A well defined initiative should address both the benefits of implementation AND the risks to the operation if it is NOT.
Back on Track
The Vision statement is one starting point to re-energize the team. Of course, this assumes that the team actually understands and truly embraces the vision.
Overcoming Road Blocks
The Charter: Challenge the team to create and sign up to a charter that clearly defines the scope and expectations of the project. The team should have clearly defined goals followed by an effective implementation / integration plan. The charter should not only describe the “Achievements” but also the consequences of failure. Be clear with the expectations: Annual Savings of $xxx,xxx by Eliminating “Task A – B – C”, Reducing Inventory by “xx” days, and by reducing lead times by “xx” days.
Defining Consequences: Competitive pricing compromised and will lead to loss of business. This could be rephrased using the model expression: We must do “THIS” or else “THIS”. It has been said that the pain of change must be less than the pain of remaining the same. If not, the program will surely fail.
The Plan: An effective implementation strategy requires a time line that includes reporting gates, key milestones, and the actual events or activities required. The time line should be such that momentum is sustained. If progress suggests that the program is ahead of schedule, revise timings for subsequent events where possible. Extended “voids” or lags in event timing can reduce momentum and cause the team to disengage.
Focus: Often times, we are presented with multiple options to achieve the desired results. An effective decision making process is required to reduce choices or to create a hybrid solution that encompasses several options. The decision process must result in a single final solution.
Consequences: As mentioned earlier, a list of consequences should become part of the Charter process as well. Failure suggests that a desired expectation will not be realized. It is not enough to simply return to “the way it was”. The indirect implication is that every failure becomes a learning experience for the next attempt. In other words, we learn from our failures and stay committed to the course of the charter.
Almost all software programs are challenged to sort data. We don’t really think about the “method” that is used. We just wait for the program to do it’s task and wait for the results to appear. At some time, the software development team must have chosen a certain method, also known as an algorithm, to sort the data.
We were recently challenged in a similar situation to decide which sort method would be best suited for the application. You may be surprised to learn that there are many different sorting algorithms available such as:
- Bubble Sort
- Quick Sort
- Heap Sort
- Comb Sort
- Insertion Sort
- Merge Sort
- Shaker Sort
- Flash Sort
- Postman Sort
- Radix Sort
- Shell Sort
This is certainly quite a selection and more methods are certain to exist. Each method has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Some sorting methods require more computer memory, some are stable, others are not. Our goal was to create a sorted list without duplicates. We considered adding elements and maintaining a sorted “duplicate free” list in real-time. We also considered reading all the data first and sorting the data after the fact.
The point is that of the many available options, one solution will eventually be adopted by the team. Using the “wrong” sorting method could result in extremely slow performance and frustrated users. In this case the users of the system may abandon a solution that they themselves are not a part of creating. While a buble sort may produce the intended result, it is usually not the most efficient.
Another aspect of effective development is to document the analysis process that was used to arrive at the final solution. In our example, we could run comparative timing and computer resource requirements to determine which solution is most suitable to the application. Some algorithms work better on “nearly sorted” lists versus others that work better with “randomly ordered” data.
Engage the Team: The team should be represented by multiple disciplines or departments within the organization. Using the simple example from above, the development team may create a working solution that is later abandoned by the ultimate users of the system due to it’s poor performance. The charter should be very clear on the desired expectations and performance criteria of the final solution.
Creating a model or prototype to represent the solution is common place. This minimizes the time and resources expended before arriving at the final solution for implemention.
Vision: Leadership must continue to focus beyond the current steps. A project or program is not the means to an end. Rather it should be viewed as the foundation for the next step of the journey. Lean, like any other initiative, is an evolutionary process. Lean is not defined by a series of prescriptions and formulas. The pursuit and elimination of waste is a mission that can be achieved in many different ways.
Management / Review
Regular management reviews should be part of the overall strategy to monitor progress and more so to determine whether there are any impediments to a successful outcome. The role of leadership is to provide direction to eliminate or resolve the road blocks and to keep the team on track.
Breaking Through Paralysis
The objective is clear – we need to keep the initiative moving and also learn to identify when and why the initiative may have stopped. Running a business is more than just having good intentions. We must be prudent in our execution to efficiently and effectively achieve the desired results.
Until Next Time – STAY Lean!
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