Regular reader know that I like Tim Ferris’ book, The Four Hour Workweek. The productivity aspects of lean dovetail perfectly with the concepts he promotes in his book. A few weeks ago we also told you how he was thinking about push vs. pull processes. One notable quote from Mr. Ferris that applies to my annoying ability to rant against the likes of SAP and other ERP systems:
The first rule of any [technology used in a] business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.
But those of you that have read his book know he proposes several actions that may seem to be non-lean. Regular reader and Baldrige examiner Erwin Kiess reminded me of just two points:
Now, from what I picked out, what Ferris proposes is not very Lean. For instance, "Read email twice a day?" So, you batch them? And that inventory builds up in your inbox adding to the IT systems capacity and to ones stress of having an email backorder. Plus the fact that some internal customers require a quick turnaround time. And in the service industry, that’s a golden rule, quick turnaround. I think I have methods that are much more productive than batching email.
Then come all the links to outsourcing the services… So we become an outsourcing lemming? Again, being in a service industry, I am really aggravated when some guy in India tries to be “nice” and repeats my whole description of the issue and the steps I took to troubleshoot. Do these services/people understand the value and the branding of the various organizations/people that use the service?
Erwin’s two points have bothered me as well, although I personally subscribe to both. First, on the email-checking discipline. We’ve talked about email overload before, and fellow blogger Dan Markovitz has an article on the subject. Is checking email twice a day really "batching," or is it attacking the root cause of "too much inventory?" It probably depends on the person’s function. If you’re in customer service then checking twice a day is most likely inappropriate and decreases value to the customer. If you’re an executive then twice a day may force people to be empowered to make decisions.
Last week a colleague and I were talking about strategy and leadership (yes, over a few beers…) and he made one comment that really stuck with me:
An executive should visit the gemba every day, but should spend less than 20% of his time on projects due in less than 180 days. Another 20% should be spent on projects due in greater than three years.
If I’m an executive and I’m checking email every couple minutes, what does that say about my long term focus?
Outsourcing is another tough nut to crack. Regular readers know I rant against outsourcing at every opportunity. But when is "outsourcing" really outsourcing? Presumably the alternative to outsourcing does not mean creating a pure self-contained vertical enterprise. There does need to be a focus on core competencies. If you are in the electronics business, manufacturing the completed assembly probably makes sense, but manufacturing the IC chip that does into it probably doesn’t.
If you’re Dell, then creating and shipping a product quickly is a core requirement of your business model, which is why creating a world class manufacturing enterprise (but not really lean!) was critical. So what does it say when Dell decides to give up one of their key core competencies?
Tim Ferris suggests outsourcing personal administrative activities in order to create more time for activities that leverage core competencies to create value. In another part of our email exchange, Erwin also points to this difficulty.
And you have brought another very important consideration: core competencies. Being a Baldrige Examiner, that is one of the things we look at: What are those core competencies, how are they determined, and how do organizations design and innovate work systems and work processes and determine which key processes will remain internal and which will be outsourced. The question is, with the information “overshoot” (or over production?) the book provides, do you think the average leader will be wise enough to sit back and intelligently make those determinations? Many organizations are not capable, let alone the casual individual attracted by this “marketing” pitch.
The danger is the ability, or inability, to recognize a leverageable core competency. Dell is perhaps the poster child for this conundrum.