For as many years as I have been blogging here on Lean Execution, I have been increasingly concerned with the sustainability of our economy, business, and government at all levels – locally, nationally, and globally. To this day, these same interests are all struggling to define and establish models that will allow them to recover, sustain, and flourish in the foreseeable future.
The word “meltdown” entered my mind as the summer heat continued to beat down on us over this past week. As we have witnessed over the past few months and years, many governments and businesses alike have collapsed and there are many questions that have yet to be answered. How did it happen? Was prevention even possible? As I listen to the radio and read the newspapers, I find it interesting that “cuts” are the resounding theme to reduce costs.
I would argue that the real opportunity to reduce costs is to review and identify what is truly essential and then examine whether these products and services are being delivered in the most efficient and effective manner. I have always contended that there is always a better way and more than one solution with the premise that anything’s possible.
The economy is extremely dynamic and infinitely variable. Our ability to sustain and succeed depends on our ability to stay ahead of the curve and set market trends rather than follow them. Apple is one such company that continually raises the bar by defining new market niches and creating the products required to fulfill them.
We also have a social responsibility to ensure that people are gainfully employed to afford the very products and services we provide. As we consider current employment levels here in Ontario, Canada, and other countries around the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that cutting “jobs” is not a solution that will propel our economy forward. We must be accountable to create affordable products and services that can be provided and sustained by our own “home based” resources.
Accountability for a sustainable business model requires us to forego future growth projections and deal with our present reality. Expanding markets are not to be ignored, however, we can no longer use the “lack of growth” as an excuse for failing to meet our current obligations and stakeholder expectations.
I continue to be frustrated by the notion that the only way to reduce spending is by cutting services. While the demand for change is high, few are willing to challenge tradition and conventional thinking to improve services and increase efficiencies that will enable us to do more with less, find new opportunities, and to create jobs instead of eliminating them.
On a global level, governments continue to grapple with increasing economic pressures brought on by the recession. Rather than demonstrating fiscal restraint however, governments have grown and spending has increased at rates that far exceed that of the public sector. The result is an unsustainable government and services that will either be cut or funded through newly created revenue streams.
Rather than challenging the infrastructure and systems that comprise the delivery of these services, the governments scramble to find new ways to reach further into our pockets to pay for inefficiencies, high paid union labour, and questionable entitlements. In some instances, services have been abandoned only to be properly managed by the private sector.
For example, when we consider the delivery of health care in Canada, we find a system plagued by excessive wait times and ever rising costs. Doctors and specialists continue to operate as a fragmented community of service providers, adding layers of bureaucracy, greater inefficiencies, and more cost.
These inefficiencies are further evidenced by patients who are sent into a frenzied schedule of appointments and tests in various locations without regard for the many inconveniences and disruptions they may incur in their personal lives.
On the other hand, emergency rooms do not present the same constraints and, though some waiting may be required, patients are examined and assessed immediately, a prognosis is determined, priorities are established, and resources are made available on demand as required.
Expedience does not jeopardize the level of care provided. While the emergency room may not present the ideal case, it is radically different from “standard” care.
In stark contrast to the government-political processes that continue to insult our intelligence, I am always encouraged by the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of individuals who prove that there is always a better way and more than one solution:
The quicker we realize that truly radical changes are necessary, the sooner we can abandon traditional cost cutting practices and apply Lean Thinking to improve society as we know it, not cut it to shreds. My simplified definition of Lean Thinking follows:
Lean is the pursuit of perfection and pure value through the relentless elimination of waste.
As every lean practitioner will tell you, the process begins by defining value. Unfortunately, many governments and companies alike start by falsely assuming that they are already providing the value that customers want or need. As such, they attempt to improve existing products or services by either adding features or making them faster and cheaper. From the perspective of Lean Thinking, the “secret” to making real change begins by finding:
“… a mechanism for rethinking the value of their core products to their customers.”
In this same context, consider how our desire to “travel from Point A to Point B in the shortest time” has evolved and transformed our personal modes of transportation / communication into the following “value” propositions:
Personal: Crawl > Walk > Run > Tricycle > Bicycle
Roadways: Bicycle, Motorcycles, Cars, Buses
Railways: Passenger and Freight Trains
Seaways: Boats, Ships
Airways: Helicopters, Planes, Jets, Rockets
Telephone: Phones, Faxes, Internet (email, social media)
Each mode of transportation presents a unique solution to address a shared common value: “Short Travel Time”. Although changing technologies is inferred, lean does not require an investment in new technologies to be successful. To the contrary, Lean Thinking simply challenges us to consider the value our customers are demanding. Accordingly, we must ensure that our infrastructure, business practices, and methodologies deliver that value in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
Only when we focus on “value” from a customer perspective can we offer a solution that truly meets the customer’s needs. When we consider the premise for this example, the need to travel is implied. It does not answer the question “Why do we travel?
If the reason for traveling is simply to “communicate” with friends and family, then we can see that the telephone becomes a viable solution to eliminate the need to travel at all. From a similar perspective, fax machines and the internet were created to expedite data transfers and to communicate with the world in real-time.
The Challenge is On
It is time for all levels of government, business, unions, and society as a whole to acknowledge that our economy is in a state of crisis and demands real action. Real people are hurting at a time when others are pursuing their own agendas for self-preservation – all at the expense of society. We can not simply assume that everything is “just fine – only more expensive”.
Lean Thinking is a requisite mandate for any company wanting to compete in today’s global market. In this regard, the same challenges exist for governments and businesses alike to adopt lean thinking to deliver real value to the people they serve at prices we can all afford.
Unless government spending is brought under control and services are delivered effectively and efficiently, the system is sure to implode. It’s time for an extreme make over, engaging the best and sharpest minds to bring us to the cutting edge in business and technology, not to the cutting board where nothing remains but shattered hopes and dreams.
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