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Lean Transformation: "Shock and Awe" vs. "Slow and Grow"

by Art Byrne & Dan Markovitz
August 3, 2017

Lean Transformation: "Shock and Awe" vs. "Slow and Grow"

by Art Byrne & Dan Markovitz
August 3, 2017 | Comments (57)

Dan Markovitz: Dramatic change works for you -- yet it seems so counterintuitive...

Art, you’ve had enormous success with a “shock and awe” approach to introducing lean in a company. You buy a company, and seemingly on Day 1, you ride in and start swinging sledgehammers, moving machines, rearranging customer service departments, etc. No incrementalism for you. And the companies you’ve been involved with, from Wiremold to UGH (the fictional company in the Lean Turnaround Action Guide) have reaped enormous benefits. 

And yet, something feels wrong about this to me. Notwithstanding your track record, everything I’ve read and experienced first-hand as a lean consultant has taught me that dramatic change seldom works. Dr. Robert Mauer, professor of behavioral science at UCLA, shows that large-scale change activates the fight or flight response — so we’re better to make incremental change. And common sense dictates that people in an organization need to build up their improvement “muscles” — you don’t train for a marathon by running 20 miles on the first day if you’ve never run before. Your approach seems to work, but I just don’t get it. 


 Art Byrne: It's the only approach that's worked for me

I don’t know what to tell you. You either want to get better or you don’t; and a tippy-toe approach just doesn’t work very well. Almost every company that I have seen that tried the slow and gentle approach failed at converting to lean. The nay-sayers always won out, little was accomplished, and they were able to return to their happy place in the status quo. That said, no matter how you go about it, about 95 percent of all lean conversions fail anyway, so I guess you could argue that we both are right. Whether fast or slow, those that succeed at lean do so due to leadership no matter the pace.


 Dan: What's the real root cause though?

Your response is brief and direct — just like your lean initiatives, I suspect!

It sounds like you’re saying a tippy-toe approach means that you don’t really want to get better. I don’t think that’s fair. There are legions of workers who have been scarred by stupid leadership decisions that have caused pain, embarrassment, or frustration. And: how do you know that the slow and gentle approach is the root cause for the failure to convert to lean? Isn't it possible that there are other factors causing people to return to their happy place? Correlation is not causation, after all. 

I believe that you can have an unshakeable, unwavering, resolute commitment to lean without busting out the sledgehammers on Day 1 and turning everyone’s (work) world upside-down. I’d also argue that we might be able to win hearts and minds if we start by — in the words of Paul Akers — fixing what bugs you. After all, as Shigeo Shingo said: "There are four purposes of improvement: easier, better, faster and cheaper. These four goals appear in the order of priority.” Wouldn’t we be better off if we start by helping people see that lean means making their lives easier — even if we’re starting someplace really small, like raising their computer monitors, or putting wheels on the garbage cans? Those improvements won’t move the needle on corporate performance, but they might get people to buy into lean — rather than just thinking, “The boss is nuts, but he’s the boss, so I guess I’ll go along.”


 Art: Even if the approach is fast, the transformation is still slow

You can approach this any way you want and still be successful, I suppose. But keep in mind that however you go about it, converting to lean is a slow, step-by-step process. Whether you go slow or fast, you are still trying to remove waste everywhere: that in turn will make people’s jobs easier and safer while at the same time delivering more value to the customers. My experience is that jumping in and going fast is the best method, as it gets people on board quicker, makes it more difficult to backslide, protects everyone’s jobs and delivers the most value to the customer.

It sounds to me like you would have a hard time with the idea that setting stretch goals is important to the lean conversion. To me, asking for anything less in fact shows tremendous disrespect for your people: saying “let’s go slowly and only reach for goals we know we can achieve so that no one will get discouraged.” I look at it the exact opposite way. I have tremendous faith in the abilities of all my people and what they can achieve when challenged. You may have to help them along the way and keep pushing, but there is no better feeling than watching a team reach or exceed a goal that they all believed was impossible when it was first mentioned. This to me is what showing respect for people is all about. 

For example, at Wiremold we were normally able to achieve a 90 percent reduction in setup time after a one-week kaizen. So, if we know this is possible, should we therefore establish a setup reduction target of, say, 10 percent for the first kaizen because some philosophy professor doesn’t want anyone to get upset? What do you think will make people feel better at the end of the week, achieving a 15 percent reduction when the goal was 10 percent or achieving 85 percent when the goal was 90? Does the guy who got 85 percentl work more, or less, on each setup than the guy who got 15 percent? Look, I know I’ll never convince you but that is fine. Your approach can still result in a very good lean conversion provided you have the leadership in place to keep everyone on track over a long period of time. I’ve found, however that the company taking the more aggressive approach will be far ahead of the company taking the more gradual approach in terms of results and employee satisfaction, let alone the value given to the customer. I’ll stay with the faster more aggressive approach. It always seems to work.


Dan: A case of "The Tortoise and the Hare?"

You’ve made some pretty compelling arguments here. One comment in particular makes me think that there’s a fair bit of common ground between us. You write, "Converting to lean is a slow step-by-step process however you do it.” I interpret this to mean that even if you rip apart the production area in the first week, you see this as nothing more than the first step in a long, long journey. On this, I wholeheartedly agree.

Nevertheless, is it possible that you and I represent the classic tortoise-and-hare contrast? I’m certainly not accusing *you* of being exactly like Aesop’s hare and slacking off after the early lead — your success at Wiremold and other firms clearly shows that you’re no slacker — but what about other companies that don’t have the benefit of your leadership? The corporate landscape is littered with the carcasses of abandoned lean initiatives, and I suspect that there are a fair number of cases where the leadership started lean with a bang and ended with a whimper. 

Bringing people along slowly might actually help them to better internalize and understand what they’re doing. For example, I could have a math teacher help me solve a problem in calculus, but it’s better (if slower) if I first get a solid foundation in algebra. Similarly, I could have a sensei set up a work cell or a kanban for me, but I wouldn’t understand it with any depth. 

So, if we are dealing with a tortoise and hare situation, does this mean that how lean is introduced matters far less than simply having relentless commitment from leadership?  


Art: It's all about the leadership

Relentless commitment from the leader or leadership is the basic requirement if you are going to have a successful lean conversion, regardless of whether you choose the fast approach or a slow one. The main issue with getting more companies to move to lean is and always has been “how do you get the CEO interested in the first place?” If the CEO won’t lead the charge, your chances of success are very low. 

Back when I was a Group Executive at Danaher Corporation we took all 13 of Danaher’s Division Presidents to Japan for a week to see lean in action at various Japanese companies. When we returned, each of these presidents attended a three-day kaizen at one of our plants every six weeks, so that they could participate in and start to understand just how much gain you could get from a kaizen in just a few days. At first they bitched and complained. But after about three kaizens they tried to make sure they never missed one because they were learning so much. 

So part of jumping in and as you say, “ripping apart the production area in the first week” is simply to show the CEO and the rest of his team how much gain you can get in a short period of time. The gains are always very big and we don’t “rip apart” anything: we make improvements. Even with this it is often hard to get the CEO’s attention. As a result, your go-slow approach is even less likely to get the CEO’s attention. It will have little impact on the company and as a result things will just drift back to the way they were. Even with what you call the “rip things apart” approach change occurs very slowly. Every kaizen will have exceptional results but you are only working on one area or machine at a time. We got an average of 90 percent reduction in setup time during a one week kaizen but that was on one machine. Let’s say there are 200+ machines. Even with dramatic results, most CEOs will only try to run one kaizen every six weeks or so. You won’t get very far doing that. You need to be running two kaizen per week per facility to be successful and very few people are willing to go at that pace. And even then, my experience is that it takes even a committed management team who is achieving great things about four years before they wake up and can start to see all the opportunity that still exists.

I think the only way your go-slow approach can work is if you already have a lean zealot as CEO who will never waver from the path and is willing to take baby steps over a very long period of time. In fact, the way you seem to describe it, you seem to think in traditional terms about improvement. By this I mean a group of salaried people coming up with ideas on how to improve and then implementing them on the hourly people. First we’ll do some training etc. and take it slow so people will understand it and buy in. Our kaizen approach uses teams that are divided evenly between salaried and hourly employees, and always includes the people doing the work we are trying to improve. The best ideas for improvement always come from the people who are doing the work. So we are getting buy in and lots of learning by a broad spectrum of people every time we run a kaizen. If we “rip apart” your work area and make your job way easier and safer are you going to be mad at me? Do you think you would have preferred that I take 6 months of small steps to make your work easier instead of having it be way easier and safer by the end of this week? I think you get the point. I certainly won’t think any less of you if you want to go slowly and make converting to lean some sort of academic or training exercise. Be my guest and good luck with that. As for me, going as fast as I can still takes a long time and is very difficult but I don’t know a better way so I’ll stick with what I know works. 


Dan: It's apples to oranges

You’ve made a powerful argument for your approach — enough so that I’m wavering in my commitment to the “go slow” approach. 

Your last comments make me think that our different perspectives might be due to our respective positions. You’ve been the CEO, and — even if you’re not a command and control kind of leader — you have the ability to drive lean at the speed you want. Coming in from the outside as a consultant (and not a Japanese one), I don’t have the same kind of power and authority, and my ability to engage the CEO and the rest of the leadership team is constrained. For that reason among others, I think, I’ve defaulted to the slow and steady approach. 

But you’ve got me reconsidering my thinking and my preconceptions. So thank you for engaging in this dialog.

Now that you've heard both sides of the discussion, where do you stand? Are you Team Art or Team Dan? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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57 Comments | Post a Comment
Daniel Jones August 03, 2017
11 People AGREE with this comment

This is the best post on The Lean Post ever!

It gets to the heart of the dilemma facing the whole lean movement - engaging and showing leaders (at every level) how to think and act, not just to get started but to sustain momentum (so the hare never gets caught up!). It is all about leaders wanting to change and getting help to do so. Sadly most lean consultants never get this chance and so default to bottom up work, which yields rewards that are not sustainable. Understandable but ultimately deadly for the lean movement! 

If you ever doubted that lean is a strategy for building organizations that serve customers better and innovate faster this should crystallize the argument for you. Which is why we tried to distill the lessons from leaders who had the same experience as Art in our book The Lean Strategy (with help from Art). Uncomfortable reading for some but we hope a pointer to real success for leaders wanting to change. 



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Ovidiu Contras August 03, 2017

I'm definitely on Team Art. I guess the ones advocating the "go slow" approach never experienced what Art proved again and again, delivering Lean Transformations with tangible business benefits. 



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Art byrne August 03, 2017

Ovidiu, thanks for your comments. You know very well what lean can deliver and should always expect big results right away. Art.



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Ovidiu Contras August 03, 2017

Absolutely Art, thank you again for the unbelievable experience! It changed the business and it changed me as a professional.



dan markovitz August 03, 2017

Ovidiu, 

If the CEO won't go fast, will you suggest that the company abandon its efforts?

dan



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Ovidiu Contras August 03, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Absolutely not. They should lower then the expectations of business benefits. You can small-step improve the Batch &Q to death, you'll get no where near the benefits that Flow brings.



Art byrne August 03, 2017
2 People AGREE with this reply

Dan, thanks for your comments. Your right, of course that if the leader doesn't want to improve and change things to deliver more value to his customers then not much will happen. On the other hand if a leader wants to get better and gets the right help there is no limit to what can be achieved. The consultant should be willing to fire the company that is not interested in aggressively implementing lean rather than worrying about rocking the boat and cutting of his income stream. Your new book The Lean Strategy points this out very well and should be a must read for any management team and CEO who wants to deliver more value to his customers and understands why this is important. Art.



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Michael Balle August 03, 2017
7 People AGREE with this comment

I have to say I find this debate rather depressing - i am nowhere close to Art's track record, but from working with CEOs for the past 15 years I have to agree that you do or you don't and that's that.

Consultants tend to work fot upper middle managers who are trying to optimize processes locally while slowing down any real change and -God forbid - any team work at exev co level.

the argument is like learning to shoot darts by first aiming for the 20, then if we get good at this trying for the 50 and then when we grow up going for the 100. It simply makes no sense. Go for it, see who follows and who doesn't and watch how far you get.

One dimension I could add to this debate is the leader's own competence with lean. When CEOs are learning lean as they go things tend to be slow because they are tentative about how to go about it and how hard to push.

i ve seen CEOs go through their first, second, third and in one case, fourth lean cycle and each cycle definitely has a different feel. Speed has a lot to do with how confident the leader is in her own practice.

In the end, I believe speed is not something you control but the result of 1/ the clarity of the leader's practice and requests and 2: the will and skill of teams to follow through, and of middle managers to adhere. Transformation is never uniform but depends of who s in charge well.

None the less I can't imagine in what configuration is a benefit (other than to consultants charging for support). You aim for going as fast as you know how and then hit the friction, confusion and lack of knowledge of individual managers and support them on a case by case basis.

 



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Art byrne August 03, 2017

Michael, thanks for your comments. You are right it is all about leadership. If the leader can understand the strategic value of lean as a way to deliver more value to your customers then why on earth would you choose to deliver value to then slowly if you could quickly? Don't you like your customers? Fortunately your new book Lean Strategy makes this point very clearly and I hope it will have a big impact. Art.



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dan markovitz August 03, 2017
2 People AGREE with this reply

Michael, 

It sounds as though you're suggesting that (1) unless the CEO is on board, everyone is wasting their time, and (2) if they're not willing to go fast, evyerone is wasting their time. 

Fundamentally, I agree that to achieve "success" (even though there is no finish line) you want the CEO fully committed. But even if you don't have the CEO involved, and even if you don't go fast, we can still make the lives of everyday workers easier and better. And that's not a bad thing, even if it doesn't get us to the lean promised land. 

dan



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Michael Ballé August 03, 2017

Dan,

in my experience, lean is not an prganizational change, it's a perspective change for the leader. The CEO, or COO, or digvision head decides to do things differently and learn the TPS, theory, practice and yokoten. And then everything else changes.

sure it's pissible to help people locally and make their workplace better - i m not knocking that and did that for years. But mostly we re giving them false hope because if the leader doesn't get it, sooner or later (soiner in my experience) some exec is going to take a "stiff someone for short term gain" decision and slam all improvement down - leaving people even more frustrated and deflated.

But the real unanswered question is why more people in the lean world aren't ready to take the challenge os seeing lean for what it is, historically, a full strategy: from product development (chief engineers, etc.) to team level kaizen, and vice versa?

Tell the truth, I believe the real slow/fast challenge is on us: why aten't we, in the Lean community, learning faster? Why aten't we following the path Art has opened and learning more from toyota rathrr than claiming "here is this little bit of the system, this is all you need to know right now, you ll find out the rest when you geow up"?

The fact that we are having this discussion in the first place is that we are not challenging ourseves harder to learn faster ??

 

 



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Don Scott August 03, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Michael,

Poignant point - it is indeed worth every second and every effort to see people respond to respect that they may never have been shown. The gut wrenching caveat is that those people are the first to perish in the vacuum left when you finally say "enough" (or worse, what replaces that void). This I have seen first hand.

It seems clear to me that the real debate is over how to obtain leadership buy-in, not speed. Most of us are in no position to "fire our clients." For the most part, it's slow (and honestly superficial) or not at all. Lean isn't some potion you feed to a CEO any more than its a sauce you pour over an assembly line, but the assembly line responds to your efforts, whereas the CEO does not. Actually, I wish I had a vial of "Lean Potion." I'd slip it into the CEO's coffee and then work absolute magic on the company...fast....but that would be defining value from MY perspective, not his, wouldn't it? As a consultant, he IS my customer, after all.

Perhaps, as you suggest, the flaw is with the Lean community. We may simply lack the courage or resources to say "I can't help you" and walk away if our CEO customer is not committed to fully supported, top-down, stem to stern Lean conversion...fast.



Michael Ballé August 04, 2017
2 People AGREE with this reply

Don,

Ouch, you ve found me out - thank you for keeping me honest ??

I cheat. I will only take jobs if 1/ the CEO asks me nicely, 2/ is ready to commit to a gemba walk schedule as his/her change of leadership practice right away and 3/ willing to shift from push to pull on the spot.

But I m a one man band, I work with these guys over years and years (this debate is about getting started, no one ever talks about the real strategic stuff: new product development and launch) and so I can turrn down many requests.

And yes, when I turn down a resuest because there is some will to do something, to Dan's point, but not the kind of Art's drive, I ll try to recommend a good consultant that will support the existing "continuous improvement" program.

So, Dan, Don, I concede. In real life, and I did this last week again, my position is "if we re not ready to do it Art's way and follow Toyota, let's at least have the brst improvement program ever, à la GE." - which I did before learning to pull, back in the 1990s most of what I learned about improvement programs came out of GE and community of practice stuff.

The problem I have, is I can't call that lean. It certainly is valuable. I ve done it myself. I recommend it in real life (though not on twitter ?? Hypocrisy, hypocrisy) but it doesn't have the distinctive elements of VA/VE, pull, stop-and-call, team kaizen and teamwork at exec level to sustain basic stability and lutual trust that distinguish lean as an approach.

I do honestly believe that our root problem is the lack of consultants taking the risk to learn the full lean system for themselves, and then explaining it and pitching it so that more CEOs see that the risk/benefit balance is much better than going the usual way.

Dan, Don, thank you for a thoughtful exchange, sorry for the fat fingers typos, I m on my phone ?? And I m still on team Art in a different way now: if you can't go to lean right away, let's have the best possible improvement program we can, which means let's accelerate improvement ??.

The deeper issue though is challenging ourselves to learn before we challenge others...



dan markovitz August 04, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Michael, 

Your comment is -- as always -- thought provoking. 

I wonder if you're not assigning too much responsibility to the lean community. It's certainly important to reflect upon our own role in the success or failure of a lean transformation. However, you yourself have pointed out the radically different leadership mindset necessary in an organization committed to lean. Perhaps the reason we struggle to lead companies into the promised land of lean has less to do with us, and more to do with the willingness of CEOs to change their own way of thinking. 

Russel Ackoff once said the following:

"A corporation says that its principle value is maximizing shareholder value. That’s nonsense. If that were the case executives wouldn’t fly around on private jets and have Philippine mahogany lined offices and the rest of it. The principle function to those executives is to provide themselves with the quality of work life that they like. And profit is simply a means which guarantees their ability to do it. . . . If we are going to talk about values, we’ve got to talk about what the values are in action, not in proclamation."

And Ken Iverson, the late CEO of NuCor wrote that

The people at the top of the corporate hierarchy grant themselves privilege after privilege, flaunt those privileges before the men and women who do the real work, then wonder why employees are unmoved by management’s invocations to cut costs and boost profitability.

I think this gets to one of the root causes of lean failures: execs don't necessarily want to give up the perks of their office and (in your words) "lead with respect.". Art Byrne, Jim Lancaster, et al might are notable because they're the exception to the rule. It's hard to imagine that Jeff Immelt or Jamie Dimon are eager to give up their posh offices for a desk on the shop floor.

So, sure, we in the lean community need to learn faster, and we have to rectify many of the mistakes that we've made in promoting tools over people and mindsets. But surely we have to recognize as well that many (most?) CEOs aren't ready to make the sacrifices in prestige that lean requires.  

What do you think?

 

 

 



Don Scott August 03, 2017
10 People AGREE with this comment

This is the best post on The Lean Post ever! - seconded.

Companies do not undergo Lean transformation. CEO's do, and not very often. Failure of the CEO to have that epiphany, that moment of clarity, that dramatic shift in perspective, dooms the spread of Lean. The epiphany is that businesses are not ruled by business systems, they are governed by social systems and Lean is simply an absolutely beautiful social system.

The epiphany happens all the time, but to the wrong people at the wrong level. Mostly, it happens to the Lean consultant or CI professional. He then spends half his time and all his thoughts on ways to kaizen the CEO into shifting his philosphy. Good Luck.

If you are going fast, it is because your CEO has had the transformative moment. It has made him realize that everything he has been doing and thinking has been mostly wrong. He wants to fix that as soon as humanly possible, which is very fast.

If you are going slowly, your CEO has not made the leap and he is tolerating your preaching (and your presence) only because you are saving him money. If you run out of small projects and cost savings, he'll fix that as soon as humanly possible, which is very fast.

Lean pros proceed at the speed set by CEO support and that speed is limited mostly by how much time must be wasted evangelizing.



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Art byrne August 03, 2017
6 People AGREE with this reply

Don, I love your comments, you are so right. Every time I give a presentation on lean the first question I get from the audience is some version of "How do I convince my CEO to do this" or "Could you come to my company and talk my management team into this?" I've never seen a bottom up approach work because to become a lean enterprise EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE, and only the CEO can make that happen. Art.



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Hal Macomber August 03, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Dan's go slow approach doesn't fit my experience. Go slow for awhile so you can go fast a short time later sometimes has been effective. I work with companies doing project work -- architects, engineers, and constructors. The go slow to go fast works in the project setting. The organization is temporary; it includes people from other companies; and you have one client that may or may not have been exposed to Lean. We go slow for a week or two.

At the same companies, we start out intent on going fast in areas that are not projects. In all cases, I insist on working with the CEO and the rest of the executive suite. In a very short time, the C-level gets clear how a Lean operating strategy can change the trajectory of their business. We read and discuss a Lean book -- usually "This Is Lean" -- followed by a planning session to establish a challenge so big that it will keep us busy for 16 months or longer (four trimesters). Rarely is the challenge anything less than a 50% improvement. Usually, we go for 90% reductions in failure demand.

I also have been warned to avoid creating cognitive dissonance for the organization by setting big challenges. I remind people that when we look for 10X or 90% less kind of change we don't put a date on it. As Modig and Ahlstrom say, "...an organization sees the realization of a lean operating strategy as a constantly changing state, not as something static." The challenge sets a direction consistent with some aims the firm has in their market.

I share Art's view that asking for anything less than what you is (eventually) possible is disrespecting your team members. Lean starts with respect for people. Set your sights on what matters and go directly at it.



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Bob Emiliani August 03, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

For decades, the time-function associated with improvement has been poorly understood. The Toyota approach is to do things quickly, to do it now, to try it out now. Adopting Lean within the traditional corporate time-fucntion means to do things slowly, do it later, or don't do it al all. The habit of working slowly must ne replaced by the habit of working quickly (rapid idea generation and experiemntation). That is one of the many important lessons of Toyota-style kaizen.



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Daniel Markovitz August 03, 2017

Bob --

I agree with you on the importance of action. However, you're setting up a false choice: one can take action quickly but in small steps. That's not sufficient, of course, but it's a start.

Dan



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Bob Emiliani August 03, 2017

I didn't say anything about "small steps."



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Bob Emiliani August 03, 2017

And it's not just "action." It's the rate (amount of action over time) of taking action that matters. The two are different.



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samuel selay August 03, 2017

Great discussion! I do have a couple of questions that will help clarify my own understanding. But first I would say that the common theme of the two approaches that both authors agree with is leadership support.

Which approach taps into employee’s intrinsic motivation?

When a top down approach is used are employee’s complying with the requirement to change or owning the change?

Which type of lean failure is more likely: one in which a top down approach was forced down on people or a bottom up approach where people were asked to fix what bugs them and make changes that makes their work easier?

Which type of approach is more likely to be sustained one in which episodic events are used or one in which everyone is making improvements everyday, everywhere?

My personal interpretation of the top down approach is that it is very close to what is called The Righting Reflex in Motivational Interviewing (but at an organizational level) as described by Stephen Rollnick and William Richard Miller in their book Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change, 3rd Edition. “…the desire to fix what seems wrong with people and to set them promptly on a better course, relying in particular on directing.”



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Claire Everett August 03, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Hi Samuel

Why can't a top down approach tap into employees intrinsic motivation?  Top down does not need to be directing.  Top down can be "tell me what bugs you, and then let's go fix it."

You cannot bring about lasting organizational change through a bottom up approach only.  This requires that upper management support the change.

Upper management set to culture of a business through their actions and their decisions with actions being the more important of the two.

A Lean transformation is a cultural shift first and an activity shift second.  Without the cultural shift everything will eventually revert and without SLT support the needed cultural shift isn't possible.

The SLT set the vision for the organization, they decide what actions and what results are rewarded.  Most employees are not going to act in a way that's going against the rewarded behaviours, this is why changing reward schemes and KPI's is a key part of change management.



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Art byrne August 04, 2017
3 People AGREE with this reply

Samuel, I think Claire gave you an excellent response. Your thought that top down or bottom up approaches are somehow mutually exclusive however is totally wrong. Implementing lean is not a planning activity it is a doing activity. In fact a do it now activity. The direction may be set by the CEO but the doing is done by mixed teams of hourly and salaried people. The best ideas will always come from the people doing the work. This is I guess what you call a bottoms up fix what bugs you approach but in reality it is a company wide team effort where a lot of learning is taking place at all levels and the cultural shift to lean is occurring step by step, improvement by improvement. Art.



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Omar Boukhzar August 03, 2017

Thanks for the great debat , I will choose for the two approaches but in different situational context , the slow change in my opinion is needed when a ccompany is going through tremendous changes( think restructuring , brand , vision etc ) and processes accordingly . If the company need to implement new processes the fast approach of Arte will be used .



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Leslie Barker August 03, 2017
5 People AGREE with this comment

If my job as a leader is to improve and develop my people, my pace has to vary. I have to be impatient for change that gives greater value to my customer and relieves burden on people. Just like my shop floor, which bears the pressure of delivering our product on time, I have to deliver improvement on time. But I don’t get to do shoddy improvement. I have to do it through the people who do the work. I can’t dictate the change. Sometimes speed is exactly what is called for and I use it to see the ability of my student/s. Sometimes a slower pace, to truly grasp the situation for lasting change, is needed. I alter my speed accordingly. I have learned not to take more time to make change, if engagement is high. Alternatively, sometimes we take it step by step, so that the team can move together. I will admit, if improvement through the talent of my people is my product to deliver at the end of each day or quarter, I sometimes blow it. I underestimate some and overestimate others. I don’t always get the pace right; but I always persevere.  



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Art byrne August 04, 2017

Leslie, good comments. My only suggestion is to never underestimate what your people can achieve. Setting stretch goals is important in a lean transformation as it shows great respect for your people. It will help you change the conversation and get everyone used to achieving big gains. It will get you to be a learning company very quickly. Don't be afraid to go fast. Art.



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Michael Ballé August 04, 2017
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Dan, Art, thank you both for this very thought provoking exchange!

I ve been going through the bac' and forth again and I fear we tend to moralize a technical issue.  

As I undertand them, Art's early kaizen are essentially about batch size reduction. This is incredibly powerful - if you know what to do with the flexibility and the capacity it liberates, so back to the leadership issue.

As far as fast and slow, I see two phases:

1/ go through Jim and Dan's steps to get to pull fast - or start with kanban right away. There i find that any argument to "go slower" hides some form of resistance, mostly middle management fear or function head protecting against teamwork. Pull. SMED. Do the quick kaizen to get there - fast.

2/ in just-in-time conditions, the pace is now determined by customer demand, so that's that.  The issue then becomes how fast we can resolve the internal issues to follow the pull, which sometimes is easy and fast, and sometimes hard and slow, not just because of managerial will but also technical skill. Many technical problems are hard to crack and then it's not an issue of speed, but of resilience, falling off the bike and getting back on.

I suspect this slow/fast debate uncovers another one which is the central role of flexibility in lean thinking  as regards delivery, quality and innovation.

 



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Tony August 04, 2017

For a long time I have seen lean projects come and go and the buzz words used to make something happen.  Depending on the project, culture and dynamics of any company, I choose to keep both concepts in my back pocket.  I have been on the "low hanging fruit" side of lean--and it is just that...But on the other hand swift change is good especially when the leader themselves have a full view (big picture) of what they see.  Most people (I believe) may not understand why they are doing what they are doing--even as a consultant you have to understand what the leader thinks and/or expects--this will give you an idea of who you are dealing with.  I think you have to set targets and improvements with meaningful purpose.  Communicate, communicate, communicate...However, both arguments gave me a better perspective of how to approach any project in the future.



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Jon Miller August 04, 2017

A lean transformation should be paced not by the CEO but by external factors. If there is no external pull, it becomes about maximizing shareholder return, or whatever else is high on the CEO's list.

How fast does the organization need to change in order to solve its immiment problems? To not go out of business? To answer their customers' urgent needs? Let's remember why Toyota's put the lean system together in the first place. 

Leadership is important. The CEO acts as a governor (mechanical) at best. It is dangerous to condone the CEO-as-pacesetter. The CEO's ambitions, motivations, individual mental limitations, natural tendencies ot prefer slow or fast, likes or dislikes of structure / process / systems / discipline - these things have nothing to do with what the business needs from lean, per my point above, but will end up determining the pace of transformation. We are also ignoring the agency problem.

Can the CEO humble and subordinate himself to the needs of the customers and the organization, personally learning, growing and changing in order to do what is right? 



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Kevin Kobett August 04, 2017

Shock and awe would not happen without a change in management.

Entrenched management needs to go slow and grow.



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Steve Wilson August 04, 2017
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This quite is very telling:

"That said, no matter how you go about it, about 95 percent of all lean conversions fail anyway, so I guess you could argue that we both are right. Whether fast or slow, those that succeed at lean do so due to leadership no matter the pace."

Really? 95% Fail?  Even if that's 2x the actual number, I suspect that the cause is not a lack of leadership, or speed of implementation but instead a lack of applicability of Lean Principles to the majority of situations.

Because what you are essentially saying is that Lean Principles have this truly transformative power that can be applied in virtually every industry situation with significant postive results and the only reason there's not more success is due to ignorant and/or stupid people.

If something fails 95% of the time, perhaps it's the tools and not the users.  I get that Toyota and many other industries have utilized Lean Principles to obtain breakthrough results.  But I suspect that there are situational variables that limit the applicability of Lean Principles to drive significant improvement.  When you are selling hammers, everything looks like a nail.



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Michael Ballé August 04, 2017
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Ecological validity is always a concern, which is precisely why lean can't be applied, and has to be learned. The answers ate easy or hard, but in what business sotuations do the questions:

- can we offer more value to customers than yesterday and/or our competitors?

-can we work more safely and fluidly?

- can we reduce lead-time?

- can we stop closer to where defects are created and help frontline people faster?

- can teams better own their workspaces and work methods and come up with more improvements?

- can we improve mutual trust between management and workers, and create more stable enabling systems?

can you think of a business field where trying to answer these questions would not make you more competitive ?



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Steve Wilson August 04, 2017

"Lean can't be applied, and has to be learned"

So why do 95% fail to learn?

No argument that the objectives you state are of near universal value.  But is Lean the answer when so many struggle with it?

My question remains - why the miserable failure rate?



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Michael Ballé August 05, 2017
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I m not sure we do have a miserable failure rate. Or what that means exactly. Lean is clearly not a religion and not for everybody. When people change their minds in my experience, it always works. But here is whete we do fail:

1/ convincing an executive he or she will have to take a direct interest on how people on the frontline do their job and not treat work as a commodity that can be managed without detailed unddstanding of "gemba" - and the consequences of executive decisions on work.

2/ focusinf executive teams on doing better the main job of their organizations rather than always running after side issues and fire fighting

3/getting middle managrs to abandon their function-specific ideas and try to share and help each other across functional boundaries

4/ getting the management line to demand and support kaizen until teams feel it's okay to try new things without risking to be blamed or shafted for it in the end

5/ aNd overall exploring issues where we feel we ate weak and that we need to learn by doing

of course these conversations are hard and don't "succeed" on first attempt - buu they are hard in any case, which is why people don't have them. Lean provides a specific, technical framework to have these hard conversations and build trust in the process.

subjectively, I can't remember a conversation tackling a new challenge that went well - it's simply hard for humans to dace their problems. On the other hand when you look back, the progress is fantastic and over time people come to accept problems as their maîn working material.

and yes many give up - but why should any method to make you more competitive EASY?

to be honest, the people who succeed at lean are those who really think it's a good idea and spend their energy trying to learn what it is and how to make it work. To those who don't see the potential of lean and are just shopping for an operational excellence method, I advise to look for something easier, so you do have a point there.



Paul Weersma August 10, 2017
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Steve,

 

The question that you’re asking is great, however I believe the assumption of 95% failure rate for companies sustaining and maintaining Lean is due to Lean itself is wrong. I recently heard a wonderful podcast by Malcolm Gladwell.

 

In this podcast, Gladwell describes the free throw line in basketball. Statistics have shown that throwing underhanded free throws greatly increases the chances of making them, which can be crucial in basketball games. Yet only one basketball player choose to throw that way, Rick Barry. Why?

 

Gladwell postulates Mark Granovetter’s Threshold Model of Collective Behavior, where the threshold refers to the number of people who have to do something before someone else joins in that same activity. A person having a low threshold means that it does not take that many people to have them doing the same. A high threshold is the opposite, it takes a lot of people to convince someone of doing that activity. In regards to basketball, Rick Barry had a near non-existent threshold, the statistics and his father convinced him otherwise. However, everyone else playing basketball have higher thresholds.

 

Business in America has it’s own culture, and it’s own thresholds. Perhaps when it comes to lean, the tipping point hasn’t been reached when it comes to CEO’s adopting and buying into lean. Convention, tradition, and it’s-always-been-this-way mentality are strong forces that Lean has to contend with in order to stay viable.

 

Now this may not be the reason why the failure rate is so high. I don’t actually know if the failure rate is that high, my only point is that we cannot automatically assume Lean is a failure because of adoption/sustainability rates. All I know is that Lean has taught me to question our immediate countermeasure, define the problem, to experiment, and measure those experiments. Lean leads us to implement the best working experiment. I hope this helps answer your question.



John Shook August 04, 2017
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Sorry to be late to the party here. Great discussion - thanks Art and Dan for sparking it. Some thoughts to add...

Seems there are three threads intermingled here regarding transforming organizations and people: 1) how to approach/start (shock or not), 2) what pace to start and proceed (fast vs slow), and 3) top down vs bottom up. At the end of the day, of course, these are all false dichotomies. But that doesn't mean considering and debating them can't be useful, since they do represent three of the dials to turn in taking a transformation forward.

It will surprise no one that my view is that, for all three of these matters, the answer will be situational. Akio Toyoda's challenge with Toyota in 2010 was different from the challenge of the current chairman of, say, Uber. And Akio's challenge (his specific challenge) was different from his grandfather's. At a very high level, it’s all the same – right value with minimum waste, growing people and serving society, etc. – but it’s how to do that via the specific response to the specific situation that is the nature of “lean thinking” or the Toyota way. Some cases are best served by starting with a full frontal assault; other situations progress better by engaging the team as collaboratively as possible. In some cases, it's best to start fast and keep going fast. But, as fast as possible, no faster. The real question for that dial (the speed dial) is what is the right pace, not too fast, not too slow. How to find the right speed (sometimes slow in and fast out, just like taking a curve on the race track).

Same with the top down vs bottom up (an overly simplified contrast in almost every case I've seen) dial, too. If I walk in and see a young Art Byrne sitting in the CEO desk, that's one thing. If I see Mark Fields (to pick on the guy just fired at Ford) sitting there, that's quite another. Either way, the pace will be set by his/her and the organization's capacity to learn. How quickly can they learn? You find the answer to that, of course, by taking quick action to tackle a problem to solved (or an "improvement challenge," or in C Christianson's terms, the job to be done). When you don't know what to do, do something, take action, probe and learn.

Anyway, we can't usually choose who's sitting in that CEO seat (though sometimes we can influence that, we might even be on the board, we might even be that person, the CEO); the person sitting there, whoever they are, represents the problem to be solved.

So, it comes down to purpose. No one needs to "get lean"; we all need to get "better." - john

 



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Chris Whitmore August 05, 2017
4 People AGREE with this reply

There is no commercialization strategy for Lean.  We believe it is the best way to work and yet very few CEOs attempt to make the intensely personal decision to reject everything they have been taught/experienced.

There are some “early adopters” that are iconic in the community, but there has not been an effective effort to cross the chasm to the early majority.  One might argue that we are not even to the early adopter phase of market development are perpetually stuck with innovators.

We can discuss our business school education challenges, but before that occurs we need to think about how to make the personal transformation desirable.

I had the fantastic opportunity to join a cohort of healthcare CEOs/business leaders at a recent Catalysis event with a workshop focused on the personal transformation.  However, there were only a dozen of us participating when we need hundreds in order to make the impact required to transform our care delivery model.

Maybe the problem we are trying to solve isn’t about the approach the leader makes, but how can we make it “safer” for leaders to make the Lean leap?



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Anthony Hairston August 10, 2017

John,

Totally agree; thanks for clarifying--Tony



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Bob Emiliani August 04, 2017

"Shock and Awe" is a dreadful and wholly inaccurate phrase for describing Art's method of Lean transformation. I believe it is more accurate to characterize it as "Discovery and Learning."



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Tom Ehrenfeld August 04, 2017

Bob, as editor for the piece, I think you make a good point. This phrase was chosen to indicate the speed and intensity of Art's approach, but it has negative connotations that are not accurate in this context. Thanks.



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Carlos F. Pinto August 04, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Thank you for one of the most inspiring reflections about lean & leadership. 



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Anson Lu August 04, 2017
2 People AGREE with this comment

I experieced "Shock and Awe" in Delphi Packard when I was plant lean manager, and also " slow and grow" in Hilti Group when I was lean director. From business results perspective, Delphi Packard got more cost benefit than Hilti if measuring first two years after lean implementation. From employee satisfaction point of view, Hilti employees may feel more comfortable. 

But both stories happened 6 years ago, i visited them last year and found out that the Delphi Packard plant reached world class level, but Hilti plant looked just like what was  when I left. 

I did more than three years consulting in China after leaving Hilti, and coached more or less 20 companies. Two of them made very successful transformation as their bosses standing behind all the time to push for big breakthroughs. Other projects were not that successful because of many reasons. But one common reason was that the leaders made delegation to managers. Most managers wanted " slow and grow" 



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MARK GRABAN August 05, 2017
2 People AGREE with this reply

I'm disappointed that you would be so dismissive of science, Art.

To say:

"... because some philosophy professor doesn’t want anyone to get upset?"

For one, Dr. Maurer is a psychologist. 

Second, he's talking about brain science and our human brains. The amygdala and the "fight or flight" response are real. It's natural to be afraid of change. We can't just say "don't be afraid of change" anymore than we can say "don't be human."

It's not about keeping people from being upset. It's about effectively engaging them in change. 

There's room for debate about the best approaches for improvement in any given setting, but it seems disrespectful to just shrug off "some professor."



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art byrne August 06, 2017

Mark, my appologies for my flip comment. I wasn't trying to disrespect the good professor or disparage science. I know that people don't like change, it is just human nature. I was just trying to talk about what is the best way to overcome this fear. I haven't found a company yet [although there may be some] that was enthusiastic up front about switching from their traditional approach to lean. In fact the usual response is "This will never work here", or "We are not like those other companies." So I have found that the best way to overcome this is to first make it clear why we want to make the cange and what everyone should expect as a result. After that just jumping in with improvement activities [kaizens] helps people to learn how to see things differently and at the same time gives them a say in how the changes will be made such that their jobs will be easier and safer and that everyone is constantly learning.I don't agree with Dans definition of this as "shock and awe" I see it more as learning and improving. Art.



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Mark Graban August 10, 2017

Thanks for clarifying, Art.

I agree that the right response to "that will never work here" is leadership and discussion... helping people discover their motivation and increasing their confidence that they can improve... rather than forcing people to do something.

Your approach of starting small with Kaizen has a good grounding in that brain science that Dr. Maurer writes about :-)

People are afraid of change. It's human nature. The best way to circumvent that is to make change small.



art byrne August 06, 2017

Anson, thanks for the nice examples. You are right of course that most managers, left to their own devices want "slow and grow" or more correctly, "don't rock the boat". Moving to lean is major change however you do it and human nature doesn't like change very much. Over coming "but we've always done it this way" takes a lot of effort. You don't need to "shock" anyone you need to teach them how to see the waste and get their input on how to remove it. Art.



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Jon Miller August 05, 2017
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"That said, no matter how you go about it, about 95 percent of all lean conversions fail anyway"

Can anyone cite a credible source for the 95% failure rate?

Not saying Art isn't credible. Doubting his personal sample size.

There is also the question of how we define "lean conversion" success. 

Also at what point we measure success? Toyota failed at a "conversion" by Western standards for probably 15-20 years, counting from the 1950s, until their systems matured and aligned to the point where they could start teaching it to others, extending to suppliers.

How many ongoing "failures" are just companies still on their 15-20 year journey? Or is the underlying assumption of the 95% lean conversion failure that with a good plan, good leadership, good sensei, etc. a lean conversion should happen in 5-10 years?

It would be great if we could speak from facts.



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art byrne August 06, 2017
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Jon, you of course are correct that it would be nice to have facts about the lean success rate. You also are correct in asking how we should define it in the first place as it does take years to implement successfully. My 95% is of course just a guess from my own experience and from the input I get from some of the lean consulting firms. Also my definition of success is converting the entire company to a lean enterprise not just something that is done in operations. Most companies view lean as a cost reduction program not a strategic approach to running the business so this makes the path to becoming a lean enterprise all the more difficult. This doesn't mean that there won't be a lot of successes even in companies that look only for cost reduction. Anytime you can switch from batch to flow and from push to pull you will have big gains. As a result, even though I think most companies look at lean the wrong way I am encouraged that so many more companies are trying lean or are planning to [probably over 50% at this point]  that I think overall there is a lot of progress being made.



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Tim Anderson August 07, 2017

Hi All,

Dan's approach is pragmatic and common-sense and globally applied is fine(ish). But Art is correct IMHO in that he is acting locally. Change movements are about what we can do locally, but thinking globally as the ultimate motivator or direction(pull to a better future).

So- Think Global- Act local.

And if we Decide slowly, implement quickly.

The decision for lean is made. Therefore:

Improve a local area as fast as possible.

Aim for n/10 kaizens per team per year where n= number of people. In an organisation of 2000 people that is 4 per week. This takes some getting to so starting slowly on the first one delays this progress to the Global impact. 

Lean is about being world class through aiming for True North.

IMHO, both are right approaches. Think Global(slow to get there- slower PDSA) by acting locally( faster cycles of PDSA) embedded into the Global change picture. 

And while we dither- the world moves forward.

Regards,

 

Tim

 



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Lawrence M. Miller August 10, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

While this exchange is interesting, I think it fails to deal with a couple realities. I have been helping organizations change for the past forty years. Much of this focused on lean, but also team based organization. 

First, the arguments are presented as dichotomous and we often get trapped in false dichotomies. Something can move fast and some things cannot. It is not a simple choice.

Second, context is everything. You can't say to a client that one approach is the right approach if you do not know what their situation, their culture, their environment, their economics are. Change from what to what? The conversation is in the most broad generalities and those generalities are often not relevant when you take a look at the realities of a give company.

Third, the idea that 95% of lean implementations fail is baseless. What is the criteria for failure or success? Who is the judge? I would argue that 90% are successful in that every change effort is an experiment (remember the scientific method?) and the organization is learning from every effort. Of course, many, even most do not meet expectations and there are many reasons for that.

Fourth, there are two major components of a lean implementation and one of them is often overlooked. Every organization is both a social and a technical system. The importance of each and the change requirement for each will be different in every situation. The technical system is the work flow, the technology, equipment, job definitions, etc. The social system is the culture and its drivers - leadership behavior, all the HR systems, reward and recognition, definition of teams, decision making authority, etc. etc. Is there a sound design process in place for both the social and technical systems. Too often, not. 

Everything in the real world is more complex than slogans and false dichotomies. Study your own situation and design your own change process without feeling the need to make a false choice.

Larry Miller



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David Weagraff August 10, 2017

I'm definitely Team Art.

I think Dan nailed it for his own self-analysis when he stated that he has only come in from the outside, as a consultant. That certainly limits the choice as to what approach one is authorized to take... I wouldn't guess the consultants are typically in an authorized position to "Shock & Awe" the client.



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Michael Dawson August 11, 2017
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Very impressive and thought provoking discussion. I have mostly been exposed to the go slow approach, with a little of the fast approach while active duty Air Force, and I agree it is a false choice to think in terms of "either or"--I like to think "and" whenever possible. In the last few years, I have fallen more on the side of the people development aspects of lean as I think that is where the true power and longevity come from but many of the comments are centered on having the right leadership to ensure "success". I fully agree leadership drives culture, but you also need the right philosophy and systems to ensure "True North" is always pursued, even when leaders change. In the Air Force, commanders typically changed every 2 years and all wanted to make their own mark for their careers so we often went back and forth in what vision/goals were pursued. As I like to ask questions, here are some I'd ask all to consider:

1. How well do you think most corporations grasp or agree with what John Shook said about "right value with minimum waste, growing people, serving society, etc."; especially the latter two components?

2. If, in fact, most lean transformations do fail, what role do you think the emphasis on profits, especially short term numbers, plays in those failures? If a large role, what counter-measures do we have available to us?

3. How do traditional accounting methods hinder a lean transformation for the (many?) companies that do not address this critical aspect?

4. How many transformations include an intense focus on a key aspect of respect (at least in my view) and use TWI methods (yes, I am proposing a counter-measure) to properly train their people and ensure leaders behave in ways that promote individual and team growth?

5. I have tried the persuasion method with senior leaders and found it to be ineffective and agree they need to live and experience it, but I am curious how Art's approach incorporates strategy deployment (which I believe to be critical) as I think local improvements are great and important, but how do we ensure changes hit "the bottom line" in a manner that is so noticeable it does shake the foundations?



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art byrne August 15, 2017

Michael, thanks for your response. Wow, you ask a lot of questions. We could write a book about each one and you will find many different opinions on each. I'll try a breif response on each.

1. Not that well although mostwill tell you they want to grow their people.

2. "make-the-month" is a big focus for most companies. This leads them to think of lean only as a cost reduction program and not as a strategy and therefore makes it hard for them to be successful. By the way, when I say 95% of companies fail at lean I am using a narrow definition that means fail to become lean enterprises where the whole business is doing lean. It doesn't mean that there arn't a lot of gains from lean in companies that think of it primarily as some manufacturing thing.

3. Traditional accounting incentivizes a lot of the things you are trying to get rid of with lean. [like reducing inventory, traditional accounting rewards building inventory]

4.Not too many.

5. We certainly used strategy deployment and used it to guide our new product and kaizen activities. Getting senior management to participate in kaizen activity so they can see and understand the waste that exists is critical to getting buy in. Lean is a learn by doing activity. The gains from each kaizen are so big that it really ought to open a lot of eyes.

Regards, Art.



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Marty Carroll August 18, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

I worked for Art Byrne for many years and I can tell you that he is spot on.   

Shock and Awe is what allows all the employess to be proud.  Proud in the incredible results that they attained in a kaizen.

 

When Dr. Deming was alive, I Met him and had a short conversationn with him and one thing he told me I still remember,  Let your employess have pride in the work place.

That is what shock and Awe accomplishtes. 

Best Regards

Marty Carroll



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Salim Reza August 19, 2017
Dear Art , I am in your side. I am from Bangladesh (world largest Garments manufacturing country). my company is tring to implement lean last 2 years. In management team some of them wants faster and other wants slow. I hope I can use your post to convince managemnt .
Thanks


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art byrne August 19, 2017
3 People AGREE with this reply

Salim, thanks for your comments and good luck. Lean is a perfect fit for your business. I remember that we once had a portfolio company that had one of the few remaining factories in the US producing high end mens suits. It took them 6 weeks to make a suit. With a few kaizens we showed them how to do it in one day. Of course when I told my Japanese sensei about this he just said, "Yes, good Byrne-san, we just worked with a company in Hong Kong and showed them how to make a suit in 45 minutes." I guess that's why we call it continuous improvement. Art.



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