Here’s the winner of the Lean Blog Challenge Contest. Congratulations to Rich, the winner of an MP3 player pre-loaded with the first 13 episodes of the Podcast.
Have advice for Rich? Feel free to post your comments here. Check back for responses from some leading lean thinkers, including Jamie Flinchbaugh, David Meier, and Bill Hanover.
Mark and Lean Blog Readers,
I am currently a lean leader for a 4 Billion dollar corporation. My background is as an operations and plant manager, and I am currently working with a division that manufactures sealing products for various motion control industries and markets. We are a growing business that is doing well financially. The corporation credits our lean efforts for driving growth and margin, and has a somewhat comprehensive lean system based on TPS. The greatest lean challenge I am coming up against in this business is common but very difficult to break through: A culture of urgency, or what Stephen Covey calls “urgency addiction.” This urgency addiction often results in a breakdown of lean tools and systems, cultural barriers to leader standard work, and a failure to fully complete lean transformations.
A culture of urgency (and the resulting reverence for heroics non-conventional solutions) makes the sustainment of lean tools nearly impossible. For example, we have worked hard to implement finished goods stores and kanban in many of our facilities. Unfortunately, these systems are often ignored or pillaged when urgent demands interfere. What better way to overdrive monthly results than open up our shipping window and empty the finished goods stores? I’m driven to reduce inventory for that end of month snapshot anyway! And why would I build products to “go on the shelf” when I have urgent customer expedites?
Urgency addiction is also a major barrier to the implementation of standard work, especially for our leaders. The implementation of standard work for operations leaders has been met with disinterest at best and outright hostility at worst. Who has time to work through a checklist of items that have me auditing and checking areas that are running well? Why would a 5S audit or quality check take precedence over a customer quality crisis? Who has time for these daily accountability huddles?
Finally, the culture of urgency stands in the way of fully completing lean transformations. I am currently involved in a project to reduce raw material inventory, and we are approaching the problem through the use of kanban and the reduction of supplier minimum lot sizes. Yet it is a battle not to have this project seen as an “inventory exercise” that could also involve calling off receipts until next month and manipulation of the data. Why do we need kanban when I can just use MRP? Who has time to review demand and kan ban levels anyway? Suppliers will make me pay more for smaller, more frequent shipments anyway. As soon as the process is brought back into control through focused, heroic efforts the team will likely move on to the next crisis without establishing a system to prevent future recurrences.
I am currently attempting to battle this culture of urgency through leader standard work, visual factory tools, regular accountability reviews and audits (a factory “cadence”), and training on effective problem solving techniques. Yet last week I had a senior member of the staff come and ask me why his team had to waste time on these things when they were “hitting all their numbers.” So I continue to conduct training, coach our supervisors, and lead lean events knowing that many of our employees will nod their heads and think “that’s a nice concept…” and then return to their work seeking pats on the back for their heroic efforts and process workarounds.
In appreciation for any wisdom and advice,
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