By Jon Miller | Post Date: September 12, 2008 12:06 PM | Comments: 2
There is a proverb from the continent of Africa, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others." I was reminded of it this week. Companies eager to implement lean manufacturing quickly will put the best and brightest minds on the project. These are typically managers, engineers and specialists in the field. It is true that well-directed, well-designed lean implementations led by people of the right caliber of intelligence and influence get help you go fast to a certain level of maturity as a lean operation.
But how far will this approach take you? Lean implementations heavily relying on specialists or small groups of experts will tend to focus on technical aspects of redesigning the production system or business system. While this will deliver breakthrough results within a 12-24 month time frame, what of the other 600 months after that? At Toyota they reached a industry-leading level of breakthrough performance somewhere between 15 and 21 years after starting their journey. Given that they were pioneers, we must forgive them for taking 8-10 times as long as typical companies target for lean transformation these days.
The transformation effort at Toyota was also led by a small group of powerful individuals, namely Taiichi Ohno, Kikuo Suzumura, Fujio Cho and company, within what was to become the Operations Management Consulting Division. These people were tough as nails and as sharp as tacks. But there was plenty of "soft side" to the development of TPS. Their "in the blood" PDCA management culture, suggestion system with a staggering 58 year history of continuity, an emphasis on developing and supporting the front line worker, making and keeping clear and visible agreements, and a leadership philosophy of creating a healthy tension even in the best of times has resulted in decades of breakthrough improvement. Toyota has successfully brought along others by planning carefully and acting decisively when consensus was achieved. No company claiming to emulate Toyota at operational excellence should neglect that they must "go with others" in order to stay on the long path.
Those of us in the role of external consultants and instructors do not always have the pleasure of seeing a lean management system mature over decades from the inside organically, as do people who work within larger organizations going through these changes. Even some of us who have this pleasure can grow impatient and leave for opportunities with other companies that seem to be on the fast track to lean. But that may be a mistake. Speed is not everything. Those of us who are able to stand up to the short-sighted pressure to deliver quarter-to-quarter earnings growth should ask not how fast, but how far. How far do you want to go? As the destination comes within sight, who do you want to see around you, helping you on your journey? After a few decades, wouldn't you rather not be asked "How much faster can we go?" but rather "How much farther can we go?"Comments are moderated to filter spam and inappropriate content. There may be a delay before your comment is published.