Tag: Toyota Way

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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Are You Suffering from Fragmentation?

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Task Life Cycle - Image via Wikipedia.

When Toyota arrived on the North American manufacturing scene, automakers were introduced to many of Toyota’s best practices including the Toyota Production System (TPS) and the well-known “Toyota Way”.  Since that time, Toyota’s best practices have been introduced to numerous other industries and service providers with varying degrees of success.

In simple terms, Toyota’s elusive goal of single piece flow implicitly demands that parts be processed one piece at a time and only as required by the customer.  The practice of batch processing was successfully challenged and proven to be inefficient as the practice inherently implies a certain degree of fragmentation of processes, higher inventories, longer lead times, and higher costs.

To the contrary, over specialization can lead to excessive process fragmentation and is evidenced by decreased efficiency, higher labour costs, and increased lead times.  In other words, we must concern ourselves with assuring that we have optimized process tasks to the extent that maximum flow is achieved in the shortest amount of time.

An example of excessive specialization can be found in the healthcare system here in Ontario, Canada.  Patients visit their family doctor only to be sent to a specialist who in turn prescribes a series of tests to be completed by yet another layer of “specialists”.  To complicate matters even more, each of  these specialized services are inconveniently separated geographically as well.

Excessive fragmentation can be found by conducting a thorough review of the entire process.  The review must consider the time required to perform “real value added” tasks versus non-value added tasks as well as the time-lapse that may be incurred between tasks.  Although individual “steps” may be performed efficiently and within seconds, minutes, or hours, having to wait several days, weeks, or even months between tasks clearly undermines the efficiency of the process as a whole.

In the case of healthcare, the time lapse between visits or “tasks” is borne by the patient and since the facilities are managed independently, wait times are inherently extended.  Manufacturers suffer a similar fate where outside services are concerned.  Localization of services is certainly worthy of consideration when attempting to reduce lead times and ultimately cost.

Computers use de-fragmentation software to “relocate” data in a manner that facilitates improved file storage and retrieval.  If only we could “defrag” our processes in a similar way to improve our manufacturing and service industries.  “Made In China” labels continue to appear on far too many items that could be manufactured here at home!

Until Next Time – Stay LEAN!

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Sustainability or Meltdown?

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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.

Sustainability requires us to continually and rapidly adapt to an ever-changing environment.  In this context I again find myself turning to the wisdom of Toyota.  “The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement – Linking Strategy and Operational Excellence To Achieve Superior Performance” by Jeffrey K. Liker and James K. Franz is one such resource that is the most recent addition to my library of recommended lean reading and learning.

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.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

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