Guest author today is Cash Powell, Jr. of the University of Dayton’s Center for Competitive Change.
In a recent interview, the 16th President of MIT, Susan Hockfield, visibly shivered with excitement as she recounted the high level of thought and accomplishment that occurs when several people of similar training meet to address an idea. New solutions, new ideas, constraints resolved to a higher standard of thinking is the electric result of what she sees in the university setting and names the process, “collaborative thinking.” So the model for raising the bar of human accomplishment is known in education.
What does collaboration mean, if anything, to a successful company traveling the road to lean? It means that in the continuous improvement process, we train and include in improvement projects the dozens, hundreds and even thousands of people working every minute of the day at a job they know more about than anyone else in the organization. They know how it could be improved, they know where the wasted motion is, the unheeded requests for a new fixture, the purchased part that breaks, the need for a standard way of doing the work and more. The success of truly lean companies results not from just using new tools of engagement but also from engaging the know how of the entire organization, from hourly associates to the CEO in a top to bottom and back type of collaborative thinking, problem resolution toward attaining new standards, then resolving new questions again, continuously improving what has been improved upon before and continuously raising the bar of performance for the whole management system. Models (cases) for the success of lean companies have been available for fifteen years or more and more successful cases continue to come forward every day. Why don’t more companies see it?
Companies don’t see it because management continue to be stuck in the mud with the notion that only the engineers can improve the process, only the black belts can solve the variation issue and even the traditional and misguided notion that the union will object to doing things better. That is a 1960’s management mindset and even before. We don’t see it because company leaders will not accept the collaboration with associates required for lean operations. Company leaders support the lean facilitators, the black belts, the group leaders, the managers getting together sans hourly people, working out some improvement or other, taking it to the operator and saying, “the salaried team has worked out an improvement, we have tested it and we see the change that should be made. Take a few minutes, study it and stamp it ok unless you have some improvement that doesn’t get in the way of our improvement. And by the way, we don’t want to hold up production.”
And across the country, more and more cases are being documented in health care, banking, manufacturing and service organizations succeeding to new levels of profitability, efficiency and economy of effort through the practice of what we have come to call Lean. But in those cases the lesson continues to be clearly demonstrated that it takes much more than the toolbox –it takes the entire organization.