By Kevin Meyer
One of the issues that I've been dealing with which created my recent interest in unnecessary complexity is the boatload of projects being juggled by our various value streams. While trying to get a handle on the situation we learned that resources were being spent on projects with very little return – for a variety of reasons that I won't go into here.
Coincidentally I received the latest HPM Consortium newsletter which had an article by Dan Jones, chairman of the Lean Enterprise Academy, titled The Waste of Management. Go figure.
Visiting many head offices I am struck by
the armies of bright young people rushing from meeting to
meeting making PowerPoint presentations to each other
and by the time and effort senior managers spend in long
meetings reviewing their plans and gaming many not very
clearly defined objectives. These bright young things also
effectively insulate top management from what is really
going on in the organization.
The fraction of management time that actually results in
improvements in the way these organizations create value
must be pretty small, dwarfed by the amount of time they
spend fighting fires. But, as on the shop floor, they are all
good well-intentioned people trapped in broken and
dysfunctional management processes that drive them to do
the wrong things.
All this leads me to conclude that the most damaging
form of waste is not on the shop floor but the waste of
He's probably right. The more you juggle, the more that falls, the more firefighting. Firefighting is a waste and usually the result of a poor process, or an ineffective root cause and action on previous problems. What you need is some clear focus on the key priorities… which is the vision he presents.
Just imagine that instead of pursuing several
hundred projects your organization was able to
focus everyone’s’ efforts on the vital three to five
strategic objectives that would make the biggest
difference to its performance and that keep the top
team awake at night.
Imagine that the top team had
identified the size of the performance gaps that need to
be closed to meet these objectives.
Imagine that they had all walked the processes or
value streams responsible for these gaps to begin to see
the root causes and the opportunities for eliminating
wasted time and effort, particularly between
Imagine that everyone used the same evidence-based,
scientific method to create their own A3 plans and an
overall A3 plan of action to improve each value stream to
close each performance gap.
It is not hard to imagine the acceleration in
performance that would result from this much more
effective use of management time.
That's a lot of imagination, and I actually removed most of his imaginings. Sounds pretty powerful, doesn't it? Especially after a glass or two of some fine wine. But… it doesn't necessarily eliminate the "several hundred projects." Projects are different than strategic objectives. Prioritizing the top four or five projects does add focus, and most likely you can remove a bunch of projects by analyzing their value add potential, but most projects won't go away.
What is needed is a clear realization, and rationalization, of what can be successfully accomplished with the resources available. That's where the rubber meets the road – when someone has the guts to say "no" to a project that is probably important to someone else but where the organization is kidding themselves that it can be added to the existing project pile and still be accomplished on time. Most importantly, projects need to align with core strategic objectives.
So perhaps I need to warp Dan Jones' dreamland into something a bit more real:
Imagine that the organization has developed a set of core strategic objectives to drive a long-term improvement in customer value.
Imagine that the organization has reviewed all projects and reduced them to the set that directly supports the core strategic objectives.
Imagine that those remaining projects are prioritized, given adequate resources, and have defined milestones and criteria for success.
Imagine that the progress of those projects is reviewed at a daily accountability meeting, and immediate action is taken to address gaps.
Now that would be a powerful lean organization.
Dan Markovitz says
I know I’ve been up on this soapbox before, but let’s not forget that giving adequate resources to projects means taking a hard-eyed look at how much time people have for those projects. Capacity constraints on managers (in the form of finite work hours) mean just as much as production constraints on a factory line.
Jim Fernandez says
My comment is focused on only one tiny part of your post. When I read about the disconnect between management and the shop floor mentioned by Dan Jones, it reminded me of a company I recently visited. There were desks along the wall out on the manufacturing floor. It looked very strange. They had moved the supervisors and some of the managers out of their offices and on to the shop floor. While touring the office area it was almost vacant. It really opened my eyes to some interesting possibilities!
Dean Reimer says
Dan Jones’s dreamland still appears to presuppose that management needs to find opportunities to improve the value stream and generate solutions. In reality, do we not need to engage the people doing the work to generate these solutions? Management’s role should be long-term strategy, and creating the environment where continuous improvement can be owned by everyone.
Lost in the Northeast says
What both you and Mr. Jones have described is Strategy Deployment, or Hoshin Planning. In many cases, even when prioritization has been accomplished and resources allocated–the benefits are not realized because the driving metrics (cost accounting) are illogical and drive the wrong projects, wrong improvements, wrong products,…
Alana Locke says
Dan Jones dreamland has been reality in Australia since 1995 when the 80/20 Strategic Focusing method was developed by Dr Ian Dover and has since been applied to over 200 companies and value chains across a wide range of sectors. Take a look at where Ian has taken this focusing since then – google the Simpler Business Institute and you’ll see complexity removal and simplicity revival via the principles of simpler business.