We live in a world of standardization. Lean manufacturing or Toyota Production System is necessarily based on standardization, repeatable processes, identical parts, designed for ease of installation and reliability. But, what if every automobile was not the same as every other one and had its own story to tell? What if every car had a completely unique history and no two cars had the same parts? What if there were no replacement parts – no Autozone or NAPA, or dealership parts department? Welcome to Cuba!
One aspect of lean that has not been given enough attention, in my opinion, is how lean is an organization wide system of motivation that creates a high performance culture. Too many lean implementations suffer from a focus on problem solving skills, but a failure to attend to the system or culture of motivation. Too many rely on the “they oughtta wanna” assumption which usually results in disappointment.
A highly motivated work force is not an accident. It is not the result of being in one part of the country or another, have having a union or non-union. It is the result of systematic efforts on the part of management to design and improve a system of motivation. The most effective systems optimize both an ennobling purpose, the social bonds of strong teamwork, and the availability of individual incentives. They all contribute unique elements to a holistic system of motivation.
When we think of lean our mind first goes to the workings of the Toyota factory. However, the principles of eliminating waste and achieving interruption free flow may be found at an even more profound level in the design of Apple’s breakthrough products and the intuition of Steve Jobs. Reading Walter Isaacson’s recent and excellent biography of Jobs I am struck by the intuitive sense of lean, of flow, of simplicity, that he demanded from both the aesthetics and the technical workings of every product. You would be hard pressed to find an executive with a better sense of the interaction between the social and the technical.
Many leaders worry that their lean implementation efforts are not sustainable and they are too often right! Twenty years ago I worked with the Merck Cherokee Pharmaceuticals plant to design a team based organization. It has sustained over the past twenty years. Of course, it has been modified and evolved. But it has sustained. I know of dozens of cases of significant and positive change that have been sustained. I also know of dozens of cases in which they have not been sustained. The reasons are not complicated.
There are two words that are keys to eliminating invisible waste in organizations. These are adaptation and alignment. The failure of organizations to adapt to the dynamics of the external landscape and the failure to align internal systems and behavior both result in wasted energy. They both cause friction, friction between the organization and the environment and friction between members of the organization. Whether it is in a mechanical system or in a human system, friction is wasted energy. Too many leaders and change agents fail to address this form of waste.
Michel Baudin, a fellow blogger and author, posted a video link of a panel discussion that included Jeffrey Liker (The Toyota Way, Toyota Leadership) in which British consultant John Seddon makes the comment that “This respect for people stuff is horse shit.” Seddon argues that what leads to improvement is the system and not an intervention to respect or deal better with the people. Respect for people is the result, not only of personal patterns of communication, but also the result of the nature of the system.
Getting to Lean – Transformational Change Management is now available on Amazon.
There is continuous improvement, and then there is transformational change. Transformational change involves rethinking the whole-system of the organization, creating alignment to the external environment and among the internal subsystems of the organization.
Books on lean management and the Toyota Production System are too often presented as if this system has been a virtual heaven of production efficiency and worker satisfaction. In the author’s enthusiasm, questions about stress and work life are rarely raised or they are glossed over. In Japan there have been serious issues raised about the quality of work life […]