Many managers ask me “How can I accelerate my company’s Lean transformation?” My answer is two fold: First get the direction right, and then get everyone rowing in that direction.
One of my posts from about three years ago (worth reading for context if you don’t remember it), entitled Rowing, relates a story about the second point, “getting everyone rowing.” The rowing analogy was shared with me (on a cocktail napkin) by Ryuji Fukuda, a Deming Prize Winner and author of Managerial Engineering (after 25 years, still one of the best Lean transformation books.)
Dr. Fukuda advocated that to get everyone rowing, it’s important first to provide full support for the “red-faced” employees, the ones who are already rowing, and second to find ways to engage those who are “in the boat but not yet rowing.” As for the employees who are not even in the boat: Spending time with them is insulting to the employees who are already in the boat.
As a manager who spent far too much time trying to gather in “the lost sheep,” at the expense of the red-faced employees, this was an important lesson for me.
What was missing from the 1990 cocktail napkin rendering, however, was the “right direction” piece. Today, many organizations provide alignment through a variety of policy deployment tools, town hall meetings, morning huddles and such. But are these various mechanisms sufficient? The Pied Piper of Hamelin, after all, provided total alignment for the town’s rat population, running them all over a cliff. Taiichi Ohno, regarded as the primary creator of TPS (aka Lean), recognized that an organization’s philosophy must precede its strategy. More recently that philosophy was put forth by the Toyota Production System Support Center with a further analogy: True North – a set of fundamental guiding principles for transforming your organization.
So I’ve taken artistic liberty to add management into the boat. The red-faced manager at the helm is first making sure the boat’s heading is True North, and then doing his/her best to get everybody in the boat rowing in that direction.
True North is the theme for this year’s annual Northeast Region Shingo Prize Conference in Hyannis, Massachusetts. It’s only a week away now. Please don’t miss this very affordable opportunity to share with and learn from over 600 lean experts and practitioners how True North principles can transform your organization.
Check out the official daybook here and sign up today. I’ll be looking for you : )
Bruce: This is an excellent post on the 2 key points about implementing lean transformation. On point no. 2: I had a similar experience with a team member who was “not on the boat”, and once he was removed, I could see a rise in enthusiasm from others on the boat. But one thing to note: this team member was not “removed”, but was “relocated”, meaning I was able to find another boat that he enjoys more to be on, and now he is rowing that boat forward very well! So, I think this is another point to keep in mind: one must know who fits in which boat.
On point no. 1: Yes, it is important to have the right direction. Yet, a lot of the times transformation activities are hard to carry out not because the direction is not clear, but the leader is too greedy. He wants to go in the new direction, but also wants to keep going in the old direction too! This is either because he is not really sure whether the new direction is truly the right direction, or he just wants to achieve everything. But the problem is, energy and focus are limited resources. One needs to be ruthless in knowing what he really wants.
I really like your posts. They are insightful comments from an experienced TPS practitioner. There are a lot of blogs on TPS technical knowledge, but very few on reflections on TPS implementation experiences like yours. I’ve also started a blog on my personal experience with TPS at Toyota. Please visit: http://tpsjourney.blogspot.ca/
I enjoyed readiing your post