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Managing to Connect the Macro with the Micro

Shook, John

“Just do like I told you and hit your objectives,” said the first executive. “Just do what you think best,” said the second executive.  

It is well accepted by now that "lean thinking and practice" is more than just a kit of process improvement tools. That's what has always separated the practice of lean thinking from the various process improvement models that have come and gone over the past few decades, such as  total quality management, six sigma, business process reengineering. Those toolkits were exactly that: toolkits to improve processes.

Lean thinking and practice begins - as does all systems thinking - with defining purpose or aim. What is the aim of this business, this system (this company, this value stream, this piece of work)? What problem are we trying to solve? What performance do we need to improve? Lean management addresses those questions and tackles them through PDCA, the Shewhart-Deming Plan – Do – Check – Act cycle.

One of the well-known processes of lean management is “policy deployment” – aka hoshin kanri. Perhaps the most common misconception about hoshin kanri is that it’s a top-down “deployment” process, a relatively straightforward prioritization activity in which the objectives of senior management are “deployed” throughout the organization.

Such “policy deployment” may be a good first step, but mature hoshin kanri is a much more dynamic process, in which lower levels of the organization don’t just execute strategy but help to formulate it. As your lean transformation matures, policy deployment should evolve into “strategy alignment.”  It should become a top-down, bottom-up, middle-out process that meshes problems that are technical and social in nature with solutions that are … both social and technical.

Lean management isn’t just KPI (Key Process Indicator) management. Neither is it just trying to make everyone feel engaged.

“I did as you told me and missed my objectives,” said the manager. “Do better next time, said the executive,” replied the executive. “Yeah, but…how?” thought the manager.

Management PDCA means applying the art & craft of science - PDCA - to the practice of management itself, to the task of aligning people and process to achieve purpose.