Freddy Ballé started visiting Toyota plants in Japan in the mid-1970s while head of product planning and later manufacturing engineering at Renault, where he worked for 30 years. Upon leaving Renault, he pioneered the full lean system implementation at Valeo as Technical Vice President, then at Sommer-Allibert as CEO, and later at Faurecia as Technical Vice President. With his son, Michael, he has founded ESG Consultants (www.esgconsultants.com) to advise CEOs and senior executives on making lean transformations.
Michael Ballé, PhD, is a business researcher and consultant and has studied lean transformation for the past 15 years. He is Associate Researcher at Télécom ParisTech and the co-founder of the French Lean Institute (www.institut-lean-france.fr) and the Projet Lean Enterprise (www.lean.enst.fr). With his father, Freddy, he coaches CEOs and senior executives in using lean to radically improve their businesses' performances and establish lean cultures.
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Original Q & A from the book The Gold Mine, with authors Freddy and Michael Ballé
The truth is that part of what makes lean difficult is the linkage between change management and the lean tools. Most books that tackle both lean thinking and change management tend to approach these subjects separately. First they'll describe the lean tools, and then they'll go into change management theory. With The Gold Mine, we've tried to deal with these two themes concurrently, progressing on both fronts at the same time.
Q. How does The Gold Mine fit in with existing literature that teaches lean thinking or change management?
This approach also addresses one of the reasons that it's so hard to find any workable lean “recipe,” which is that the tools, or at least their level of implementation, must be linked to the management's lean maturity. For instance, we would argue that lean is fundamentally about rigorous problem solving and involving operators in kaizen. Fine. But in most working environments, if you start there, as most TQM or six sigma programs do, you will end up with disappointing results. People will get confused about which problems to solve, how to go about change, and what kind of attitude to adopt when dealing with resistance or recurring problems. In a factory it's usually easier to start a lean program with the basics, such as seven wastes, 5S, red bins for quality, reducing batch sizes by increasing tool changeover, and moving progressively to eliminating variation in the operators' work cycle.
This is why senseis have a hard time giving the whole story upfront. They need to enable people to realize small and tangible results, which they can then build on. This is the only meaningful way to move forward. We've tried to capture this way of learning in The Gold Mine. It's a very different-and effective-approach to change management.
In fact, we had originally planned to write a book about lean and change management, but soon realized that precisely because it does not fit with the accepted theories of change management, we would end up with a heavily theoretical book trying to explain just what the senseis actually do, from a management practice point of view. In the end, we decided the tools and principles would be more accessible if we just tried to describe them in action.
Q. Are you saying that the experience of companies that embark on the path to lean differs from the models set out in the leading literature?
Not exactly. In fact, the model of value, flow, pull, perfection, and progression, articulated by Jim Womack and Dan Jones, certainly describes the way that most turnarounds that we've observed unfold. But very few of them start with a shared understanding among the workers of where they will eventually end up. The turnaround starts by increasing the tension in the system, and then resolving problems as they arise. This process will make the players start by defining value, and then solve the flow problems, move to pull and finally endlessly kaizen the process to perfection. So they do end up following this path. But it's virtually impossible for the change leaders to plan it as such, because you need to move from one practical implementation to another.
In fact, this marks another way that The Gold Mine differs from most change management literature. The story format treats both change and lean techniques concurrently. And the underlying change model, while characteristic of lean, challenges mainstream change management approaches in its dependence on the role of the sensei, who acknowledges progress, certainly, but also provides endless constructive criticism and challenge so that no one stops at the first results, but continues to improve endlessly.
In terms of lean thinking, we don't claim to add much to existing literature of lean tools. We have tried to present the techniques in a slightly different way, however, thereby helping readers see how the tools and principles are tied to one another. Firstly, we do try to point out that just-in-time and the flow techniques such as kanban, heijunka and pull, are only one pillar of the Toyota Production System (TPS), and we re-emphasize the lesser known jidoka pillar, which is equally important. Secondly, we strive to establish the links between the different elements of the system, such as kanban and jidoka. Kanban can't be successful if quality is not already under control, for example, or if employees aren't responsive to problems on the shop floor. A systematic study of the links felt like a daunting task, so we've used dialogue to point out the most obvious links to keep in mind when implementing the tools.
Finally, now that most of the tools are known and published, we've placed less emphasis on the tools per se, and more on their purpose within the lean system. Five S, for example, is not a “clean your room” technique, but a fundamental tool to work on standardization and employee involvement. In this respect, we believe we've occasionally highlighted different aspects of tools that have been already much discussed, and we believe that even the veteran lean practitioner can find food for thought in some of these discussions.
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