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Follow-up Q & A to the Webinar "Big Company Disease: What is it? and Why Should I Care?”


Follow-up Q & A to the Webinar "Big Company Disease: What is it? and Why Should I Care?

Q. How can you start changing mental models about culture?

  A. One's mental models change through concrete experience. We learn by doing. Therefore, to move from "make the numbers" to "don't ship junk," we have to participate in, say a quality kaizen either in operations or in a business process. We need to see and concretely feel jidoka. Over time, our thinking changes to reflect our experience.

Q. I am a Master black belt a large aerospace and defense company and have moved for the last four years in R&D and design for hardware and software. Eighty percent plus of a product’s life cycle cost are locked in by design. What do you offer to help apply lean in an environment of knowledge workers (many Ph.Ds.), very iterative cycles of design, test, discovery, high usage of modeling and simulations, etc? The process is not linear. There are many interactions, moving parts that all come together by quick learning, problem solving, and knowledge sharing. My analogy is the value stream looks more like a large river delta with many tributaries, ponds, and lakes  that eventually come together to form a river … thoughts?

A. A river delta is a good metaphor. Here are some thoughts on how to apply the fundamentals. (1) Make the invisible, visible through team boards and stand-up meetings at L1, L2 and L3 management levels. For example, make the current condition at each stage of the design process visible using, say, a race track, football field, funnel, or other visual tool. Your visual board could show things like: min/max levels at design phases; hot spots per design project (e.g. we're late again because of quality issues on these wire harness and these suppliers); where a given project fits into the overall strategy (e.g. is it a major model refresh, an experimental project we're doing for learning and fun, etc.). (2) Make business processes visible. Engineering change requests are major cause of delay in military design work. The corresponding processes are often impossible complicated -- because they're invisible. Once you make them visible using basic tools (e.g. swim lane charts, SIPOC, process flow diagrams), people say, I can't believe we're doing this to ourselves. Often these chaotic processes grow of their own accord, without oversight. (3) Assign process ownership to core processes so that chaos described in point two is contained. (4) Design is about knowledge flow -- so apply core concepts; seek to achieve small batch knowledge flow -- so that it's digestible. Avoid the "garden hose" approach (e.g. we release all drawings in a gigantic batch every quarter).

Q. Which is the key point in breaking down silos in big companies?

A. Key to breaking down silos is direct, binary, self-diagnostic connections between internal customers. Prerequisite: we identify our internal customers, understand their needs, and "shake hands" with them.

Q. Please elaborate on the distinction between a "connection" and "pathway"

A. Connection refers to links between standardized processes/points in a system. For instance, the connection between an emergency department and operating room. Pathways entail understanding structure of demand in the hospital and designing service flows accordingly. For example, We have hundreds of emergency room cases every day: 500 are discharged after triage and minor treatment, 200 are sent to the operating room, 100 go to Orthopedics, etc. Thus, pathways entail "zooming out" and seeing the bigger picture.

Q. How do the four lean rules relate to unique or temporary tasks (which are common in new product development)?

A. Good question. In “unique" fields & endeavors like design, engineering, surgery, criminal law, patent law, sales, interviewing somebody for a job etc, there are (1) core activities that can and should be standardized, (2) upstream and downstream customers with whom we need to establish direct, binary connections, (3) Pathways along which services or products flow, and (4) problems made visible -- which we have to solve. The same principles apply but it takes more finesse to apply them effectively. On the plus side, people in these endeavors are usually smart and motivated. Once they learn the fundamentals they run with them. "Hey, this is making my life easier and more fun.”

Q. Are leaders ready to really understand the Big Company Disease?

A. Some leaders clearly are ready. Jim Collins' book How the Mighty Fall gives corresponding examples. Akio Toyoda has spoken frankly about Big Company Disease and Toyota over the past few years. My book The Remedy is a story of leaders who tackle BCD head on. Other leaders, sadly, may not be willing to confront it. As Deming said, "Survival is not compulsory."

Q. Perhaps this is a strange question -- I'm a strong believer in humor as are you. I couldn't find the lean comic that you referenced?

A. The Lean Laughs comic is available at www.leansystems.org

Q. How do you keep someone from operations claiming that developing multiple concepts is waste (i.e. set-based concurrent engineering)?

A. We need to understand and explain (patiently) that value in design is "useable knowledge.” Therefore, multiple concepts are extremely valuable -- even if some or most don't work. As Thomas Edison once said, "I've just learned another approach that doesn't work.)

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