Illogical Progression

This post is a follow-up to one from September on policy deployment, sometimes called a ‘roadmap’ for improvement.’  It’s more than that in that it not only sets direction and targets, but also identifies the means to achieve them.  But ‘roadmap’ is a common descriptor.  And it seems logical that when beginning a journey, we should have a clear roadmap to guide us.

“Where do you want to go?” I ask a client.

The answers to that question are often expressed in a vague financial context: “We need to reduce costs” or “We want to increase sales.”   Other times there are major projects that must be completed: “We need to install a new computer system,” or “We need to complete an acquisition.”   In one regrettable instance, I watched as managers from a fairly large manufacturer turned to their top manager and asked, “What are our strategic objectives?”  After staring back at us for a moment like a deer in headlights, he blurted out, “More of what we did this year.”

At the beginning of a Lean journey, the leadership will choose a direction that is continuous with the past – more of the same. With limited understanding of Lean’s potential, it’s natural that they not stray too far from the beaten path.   This unfortunately may be a bad direction.  Many companies embarking on the Lean journey already have counterproductive hangovers in process, for example an investment in a larger warehouse or outsourcing of operations that would be better kept in-house.   On day one, with little understanding of Lean’s potential, it’s not so easy for management to right the course of a ship that’s heading in exactly the wrong direction.   Quotes from guru’s that “95% of the time between paying and getting paid is waste” are just platitudes, as yet unproven by practice.   So, while it may be logical to create a roadmap at the beginning of a Lean journey, I think it’s not realistic.

Likewise the rate of expected change will often be timid at the start of a Lean journey.  “We want to increase productivity by 4%,” one president of a small manufacturer declared as we toured his facility.  By my estimation this target was low by an order of magnitude.  At another company, when I proposed a target of 25% productivity improvement to the VP of Ops, she replied, “Oh, people would think I’m crazy if we did that.”   As these targets are often tied to personal reputation and compensation, many executives will favor less aggressive targets.  Unfortunately, modest targets may be achieved through brute force, heaping challenges onto the shoulders of a small number of workaholics.  Modest targets don’t create a need for significant Lean transformation or organizational development.

Illogical as it may seem, when blazing new trails, the roadmap must be created concurrent with the journey.  It’s not a mistake to begin to practice policy deployment early in a Lean journey but don’t expect miraculous outcomes.  Plan on some blind alleys, and wrong turns.  Like all aspects of Lean, plotting the course for improvement looks much easier at a glance than it really is.  If policy deployment falters at first, don’t blame the process.  We learn from making mistakes.  The Lean journey is more like an odyssey, a wandering quest for depth and breadth of understanding.  Perhaps, somewhere around three years into the Lean journey, the roadmap begins to lead the journey; before then it follows and learns from it.  The direction becomes clearer with each planning cycle, and the pace of improvement increases according to the number of active participants.

What is your experience with policy deployment?  Please share your thoughts.


4 thoughts on “Illogical Progression

  1. Graeme McMillan

    I quite agree. Skills4Work’s New Zealand lean training includes senior leadership training and shop floor training in a pilot area.
    We liken the journey to ‘reading a book’ – you don’t know your topic, so you need to trust the process and just keep reading. As consultants we give a roadmap for the training period. At the end of the training period the leadership team comes up with a roadmap for the next 12 months – mostly focusing on the nuts and bolts of which area will do 5S next, who will be responsible for completing the actions from the Value Stream Map, fixed dates for company communication and leadership meetings, etc.
    Usually some ideas for Key Performance Indicators are emerging but we encourage leaders to spend quality time developing meaningful KPIs before setting objectives for them. In the early days (12-24 months) the biggest objective is to get staff engaged and establish management processes – the rest comes later.

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