Three years ago I was asked to take over designing the content for LEI’s annual Lean Transformation Summit. Keep in mind I had never even planned a kids birthday party, and when helping to plan my wedding (which like seems centuries ago), I found the best strategy was to just nod and agree a lot.
So, as I was taught to do by my hippie parents, if you get an offer that scares you, take it. I immediately said “yes”. There was my mistake. Let’s be clear, the mistake wasn’t saying yes, it was saying yes without knowing more about the work. I was thinking only about the outcome, and not about current vs future state, nor that I’d need to go and see dozens of companies to find a handful that are really changing things. I was simply not thinking about the work that needed to be done and just how challenging that would be.
Now don’t get me wrong: a challenge is good, but I was setting myself up for failure by not asking questions. There were many to ask. Was there standard work? No. Were my responsibilities clearly defined? No.
I didn’t even ask what was expected of me.
I was able to find some semblance of standard work in the black hole we call the shared file server (it’s a gap we are working on) and I quickly realized that wow, this is not “insert Company A in to Company Slot A”. I had assumed we could just do what we did before and simply swap out one company for another….a notion about the work that doing the work proved was wrong.
There was so much I didn’t know, I didn’t know what I needed to know. So I stopped for a moment and reassessed the situation. I started asking questions. Questions about what was expected of me by my customers both internal and external. Questions about what does success look like. Questions about what was learned from previous summits. How do I make this a company project instead of two person project (I was fortunate to have the ever maddening, yet always helpful Tabitha Dubious handling the logistics planning for the event)? And what I think was the most important question: what does this have to be to make sure the customer gets the absolute maximum value for their time and money?
Once we decided what the summit needed to be for our customers we moved forward. We started using the standard work of the previous year’s summit, and quickly realized that the standard work really was for a different product, a different situation. The new summit was unlike its predecessors in size, location, and even format.
I did not abandon the standard work though, and instead adapted it by replacing what was no longer applicable with updated, targeted materials. Identifying roles, establishing clear expectations and getting more of the company involved in planning were the most apparent gaps that I need to address right away. As we went along we found more gaps, and responded by correcting the gaps we could and noting the ones we could not at the time so they could be fixed for the next summit.
Here’s a quick tip that I’ve learned, when you create a visual and you have a person that has a deliverable noted, use a photo of that person instead of their initials. When we made that change there was a drastic drop in missed deadlines. Apparently when you see your face near a red deadline, personal accountability skyrockets.
We needed a process, a way to make decisions, to see the work, to have a place where the customer is always present and part of the process. I shared in a previous post, probably using the same jokes I opened this piece with, how we used an obeya to keep the team involved and up to date and make the work, and milestones visible. We quickly learned a great way to forget something was to not make it visible.
So to sum up what I’ve learned:
- While passion is a huge part of lean it can be also be a trap.
- Question everything, and everyone.
- Get to know the current state.
- Don’t assume you know what the work is.
- If a project scares you, do it.
If you are reading this, you’ve most likely been bitten by the lean bug. You have the disease, and its incurable. For the rest of your life when you are in a line waiting for something you will be looking for the root cause of the wait. Come and learn how to spread it in your company at our summit this March.
Don’t be the sole problem solver in your organization. Don’t be the problem-solving team. Be the resource to create problem solvers that is the key to successful transformation.
Practically every company has a management system of some kind, and many make the mistake of crowbarring it in across the company. We have found companies that are adapting their management systems. And they are sustaining this by creating a culture of problem solvers. This is what the entire 2017 Lean Transformation Summit is about. The event is taking place this March 7&8 in Carlsbad, CA.
We have worked incredibly hard to develop a program based on the needs of the community, regardless of industry. I mean that every session has something you can apply when you return to work, no matter what you do.
Learn all about it here: www.lean.org/summits
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