Recently I met with a client, whose company was making their third attempt to move the needle on their Lean journey. Despite all the previous attempts I was happy to see that the client was not dissuaded in implementing Lean process improvement. As we continued our conversation I asked the client, “what are you going to do different this time?” He talked about improving capacity, reducing lead time and improving on-time delivery.
“Those are all noble and worthwhile goals, I said, but is everyone in the organization aware of the goals and how to deploy them throughout the organization?” He said, “I have had some meetings with the management team and mentioned to them our strategy going forward.” How do you know and for that matter they know they are doing the right things?” I asked. “Well they are all aware of the goals”, he said.
I find this to be a common problem in most companies, the person at the top establishes the improvement strategy but fails to deploy it throughout the organization. Take the objective of improving on-time delivery. What’s the goal? 90%, 95%, or 100%. Many times I’ve seen the objective established with no goal in mind. If we want our people doing the right things we need to provide goals to guide them. Once we provide the goals then we need to make sure everyone in the organization owns a piece of the goal. I am always reminded of this example from my own experience as a Plant Manager. I was given the goal of achieving 99% on-time delivery. I called my staff together and reviewed the goal with them asking each of them to come back with departmental goals to help achieve 99% on-time-delivery (OTD). The maintenance supervisor expressed how he was going to help achieve the OTD goal by increasing the uptime on my equipment from 95% to 99%. This made perfect sense because the less downtime I have the better the probability of shipping on time. The maintenance supervisor was “doing the right thing.”
Doing the right thing requires more than mentioning the objectives and goals it requires ownership by the management team. Once we establish ownership the next step is deployment. Goal deployment is especially important for any organization wishing to implement lean process improvement because it ensures that Lean is aimed at the heart of the company. If lean process improvement serves the core needs of the customer-quality, delivery and cost, and is introduced at the highest levels of the organization it will last forever. By contrast, as my client should have figured out by now, if lean process improvement is peripheral or introduced at the middle management /staff level it will have a limited half-life, i.e. three attempts at implementation.
Are you doing the right things to ensure your process improvement initiative is successful?