By the time this uploads to Evolving Excellence I will be in the air on my way to Seattle, to a factory I have never seen before, for a 1 Day Assessment. I don't know what I will find there or what I will recommend, but I know that (to quote Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting) "at least I won't be unoriginal".
For all of their big talk, the fact is that the big consulting firms, the more elite B School faculty, and the leaders of the Fortune 500 companies are generally about the most unoriginal bunch alive. Consider the Cooper Tire strategic plan:
Starts with mush about goals … one team, creating superior value for employees (then they laid off about 1,400 of them in Georgia) and everyone else ….. blah, blah, blah … too expensive … blah, blah, blah … move to China … blah, blah, blah … need 100 six sigma black belts (same thing as lean to Cooper) … blah, blah, blah … automation … blah, blah, blah … third party logistics …………
It took them nine months and the aid of a consultant to come with —– exactly the same boilerplate solution that everyone else has come up with. I don't now what the consultant charged them, but I would have jotted the whole thing on the back of a post card in less than ten minutes and mailed it to them for twenty bucks. The entire strategic plan looks like it was copied verbatim from a Harvard Business School first year text book and pasted to a set of Power Point slides. The fact that there is not a single, unique thought in the entire 85 page document means that Cooper is not going to do a single thing better, cheaper, or faster than anyone else.
Lean leadership requires originality in application. It is a bit like the Emergency Rescue people you see on the news saving some poor guy from the scaffolding of his window washing rig dangling on the side of a building 40 stories up in the air, or the smoke jumpers being dropped into a forest fire on the side of some mountain, or Red Adair going in to put out a fire at the head of some oil well in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. These people are all driven by the basic principles of physics upon which their expertise is built, but their talent is in application of it, tailored to the specific challenges they face.
Business is competitive, and no one can win a race by following the leader. You win by figuring out the most effective way to apply the principles for success to the unique situation in which you operate. It is a chess game, or a war. The other guy goes to China to lower the cost, you stay here and try to redefine the market with your speed. He focuses on economy of scale, so you counter him with customization. Of course sometimes there is one good move for everyone in the industry – a breakthrough in technology, for instance – but you can't all do the same thing in every aspect of the business all the time and have any hope of getting ahead.
There are all sorts of obstacles to lean - cultural, structural, machine and facility related, people issues, competitive and customer originated issues – it never ends and continually changes. They cannot be overcome with cookie cutters and boilerplates. They require original solutions derived on the spur of the moment that are based on a sound foundation of lean thinking. This ability to adapt and be more creative than the other guy is the essence of competitive advantage.