We've taken McKinsey to task several times over the past year, especially with regards to their "thinking" on supply chains. But last month they actually showed some depth of understanding of lean, so I need to give credit where credit is due. In an article titled From Lean to Lasting: Making Operational Improvements Stick they bemoan the companies that focus on the lean tools without understanding the people side.
operational improvements, all roads lead to Toyota. Each year,
thousands of executives tour its facilities to learn how lean
production—the operational and organizational innovations the automaker
pioneered—might help their own companies. During the past 20 years,
lean has become, along with Six Sigma, one of two kinds of prominent
performance-improvement programs adopted by global manufacturing and,
more recently, service companies. Recently, organizations as diverse as
steelmakers, insurance companies, and public-sector agencies have
benefited from “leaning” their operations with Toyota’s now-classic
approach: eliminating waste, variability, and inflexibility.
But what is often missing?
potential savings when they implement or expand operational-improvement
programs inspired by lean, Six Sigma, or both.
Some companies set their sights too low; others falter by implementing
lean and other performance-enhancing tools without recognizing how
existing performance-management systems or employee mind-sets might
undermine them. Still others underestimate the level of
senior-management involvement required; for example, they delegate
responsibility for change programs to their lean experts or Six Sigma
black belts—practitioners who are technically skilled but often lack
the authority, capabilities, or numbers to make change stick.
What is going on?
better-known “hard” operational tools and approaches—such as
just-in-time production—with the “soft” side, including the development
of leaders who can help teams to continuously identify and make
efficiency improvements, link and align the boardroom with the shop
floor, and build the technical and interpersonal skills that make
efficiency benefits real. Mastering lean’s softer side is difficult
because it forces all employees to commit themselves to new ways of
thinking and working. Toyota remains the exemplar: while many companies
can replicate its lean technology, success on the softer side often
What can be done?
initiative throughout its whole course, starting with the earliest,
aspiration-setting phases, when senior leaders identify the key goals
and start to communicate them. That helps companies to establish a
stronger foundation for change and to set more achievable, and often
much higher, ambitions than they otherwise could. A better
understanding of the cultural starting point enables top companies to
determine where they should focus at the beginning of a program, when
to implement its various elements, and how to achieve their goals.
The authors then identify several "soft" qualities of lean leaders.
- A focus on operating processes – going to the gemba.
- Root cause problem solving.
- Clear performance expectations.
- Aligned leadership.
- A sense of purpose.
- Support for people.
Bingo. If I was to find any fault with this article it would be the concept subtly promoted that the soft side, the people side, isn't truly part of lean. And "support for people" involves far more than simply enabling people. It also includes valuing the knowledge, creativity, ideas, and experience of those brains.