The past six months I’ve seen a big uptick in the number of organizations asking for an assessment of their Lean improvement efforts. Most of these organizations have been on their journey three or more years. Many have outside consultants helping them in their journey.

They’ve done value stream mapping, set-up cells, created standard work for their cells, and implemented a few pull systems. They have some very impressive before and after pictures where 5S and visual management techniques have been applied. ¬†They’ve placed visual management boards in the work spaces to post standard work, show daily work progress, and in some cases track a few operations aspects of the cells like productivity, delivery, or quality. They may or may not have completed some type of strategy deployment or hoshin planning.

Personnel in these organizations talk about Kaizen Events recently completed or planned to complete. Often they talk about converts or new believers in the organization who were won over by successful Events. They talk about lessons learned on the journey and difficulties encountered sustaining the gains they’ve made.

Yet direct observation of current conditions and interviews with management and non-management personnel in these organizations sometimes cause me to question whether they are simply “doing Lean” or are on a path to actually “becoming Lean”? Here’s a few observations that lead to that question:

  • Often I can’discern normal from abnormal conditions at a glance with respect to work progress, quality issues, layout and workplace organization, flow, safety, etc?
  • Posted Standard Work is not being followed, or can’t be followed, or hasn’t been improved since it was initially posted.
  • Variations in WIP, output, quality, etc… don’t elicit any type of real-time problem solving. Often they aren’t even noted on the visual management boards.
  • Internal practitioners tell me about Events completed last month, last year, or are going to complete sometime in the future (time permitting), but can’t tell me anything about what’s happening right now to improve the flow of value.
  • Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) with respect to their improvement efforts is not in their vocabulary.
  • Often they can’t answer or support their answer to the most basic of questions: Is operating performance better this year than last year? This month than last month? This week than last week?
  • Continuous improvement is not part of daily work. It’s something that’s done in addition to daily work schedule permitting.
  • There’s no evidence of a plan to develop the infrastructure and capability necessary to supplant the external consultant.
  • Sometimes they can’t tell me how or if their improvement efforts are aligned with the strategic vision and objectives of the organization.

If any or all of these observations sound similar to conditions in your organization it may be time to stop and ask the same question: “Are we simply “doing Lean” or actually “becoming Lean”?

If you’re answer is more “doing” than “becoming” perhaps it’s time to apply a little PDCA to the model, approach, or deployment system that you subscribe to. Comparing your current conditions and approach to the¬†Shingo Model for Operational Excellence is not a bad place to start. (see www.shingoprize.org) Understanding the gaps between current conditions in your organization and the attributes and behaviors described in the Shingo Model could be just the shot in the arm your organization needs to move more rapidly from “doing” to “becoming”.

Remember, even if you’re on the right track you ‘ll eventually get run over if you just sit there!

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