Tag: Strategy

Lean Leadership: The Missing Link?

The TOYOTA wayI coined the phrase “What you see is how we think” to suggest that the principles of lean thinking are not only embraced by everyone but are also evident throughout the organization.  In this context, becoming a lean organization requires effective leadership to create and foster an environment that allows lean thinking to flourish.  Just as a teacher establishes an environment for learning in the classroom, leaders carry the responsibility for cultivating a lean culture in their organizations.

So how could it be that Lean Leadership is the missing link? I suspect and have observed that too many leaders have displaced the responsibility for lean into the middle management ranks rather than taking ownership of the initiative themselves.  These same leaders often operate on the premise that lean is simply a matter of implementing a collection of prescriptive tools to improve efficiency and cut costs. It is clear they have failed to understand the most fundamental principles and basic tenets of lean. If this sounds familiar, I recommend reading “The Toyota Way:  14 Management Principles from The World’s Greatest Manufacturer” by Jeffrey K. Liker.

So where do we turn?

Toyota is one company that exemplifies what it means to be lean and the lessons learned through their trials, tribulations, and continued successes are well documented. I admire Toyota both through first hand experience as a supplier of products to all of their operations in North America and secondly through their willingness to openly share their experiences with the rest of the world.  This is evidenced by the many books and articles that have featured them.

I recognize that Toyota has been the subject of many news stories in recent years, the most notable being the recession of 2008, the extremely high-profile recall crisis for Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA) in 2009, and most recently, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. In turn however, we must also acknowledge and recognize that Toyota’s leadership was instrumental to guiding the company through these crisis and for directly addressing the diverse range of challenges they faced.

A sobering look at the crisis that challenged Toyota’s integrity and leadership as well as the many lessons learned are well documented in “Toyota Under Fire: Lessons for Turning Crisis into Opportunity” by Jeffrey K. Liker and is highly recommended reading. I am further encouraged that Toyota acknowledged that problems did exist and didn’t look to deflect blame elsewhere.  Rather, Toyota returned to the fundamental principles of “The Toyota Way” to critique, understand, and improve the company.

In the context of this post and lean leadership, I am pleased to learn of another new book “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership:  Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development” by Jeffrey K. Liker and Gary L. Convis.  As Toyota continues to evolve while remaining true to the principles of The Toyota Way, we realize again that lean is not a short-term prescription to success but a journey. 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 (or should) tell you, the process begins by defining value.  Many companies operate under the false pretense 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.”

Lean Thinking 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 customers’ needs.

Apple is one such company that continues to redefine and improve its product offerings to the point of anticipating and creating needs that never before existed.  Apple’s iPad is just one example of their unique approach to creating niche products and solutions to address speed, connectivity, portability, and features that we as customers never thought possible.

The Leadership Challenge

Leadership is challenged to define and deliver “value” to the customer in the most effective and efficient manner. This is not as simple as it sounds and having leaders within the company that understand Lean Thinking is a requisite mandate for any company wanting to compete in today’s global market.  The challenge exists for leaders to adopt lean thinking to deliver real value at prices we can all afford.

Succession planning and training leaders for the future is an ongoing effort to assure continued sustainable success. Leadership is responsible for hiring the right people and to ensure they receive the training to do their jobs correctly.  “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership:  Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development” is sure to be a welcome addition to the library of true Lean Leaders and lean practitioners.

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Until Next Time – STAY lean!

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Sharp Minds – On the Cutting Edge or the Cutting Board?

A wooden chopping board with a chef's knife.
Image via Wikipedia

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:

Where do we start?

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.

The Globe And Mail featured an article titled “ What Ottawa can do to help manufacturers excel globally – Globe And Mail” href=”http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/manufacturing/what-ottawa-can-do-to-help-manufacturers-excel-globally/article2060854/” target=”_blank”>What Ottawa can do to help manufacturers excel globally” that cites feedback for improvements from manufacturers and businesses in various industries. Unemployment in the United States is hovering at 9% and, as this video “Focus On Jobs or Spending Cuts” demonstrates, the challenge to deliver new jobs is also in jeopardy.

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.

Your Feedback Matters

We appreciate your comments and suggestions.  Remember to follow us on twitter!

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

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