Q&A with Adam Zak on Lean Leadership
I’m reposting parts of this with permission of Adam Zak, a regular contributor to the blog over the years. You can read the full Q&A on his blog, Lean Connections.
Devendra Mishra, Executive Director of the Bio Supply Management Alliance, which organizes the
– Rx FOR A LEAN & HEALTHY BIOTECH SUPPLY CHAIN conference, recently posed some questions to Adam and that Q&A is here:
MISHRA: What does Lean manufacturing mean to you in the context of executive performance in organizations, both manufacturing and service?
ZAK: Lean came into being as the concept called J-I-T (just-in-time) back in the 1980s. In North America we started referring to it as Lean Manufacturing in about 1990, and today it’s more accurately known as Lean Management, having moved way beyond those production-focused origins. Lean spread readily from its automotive beginnings and is now firmly rooted in a broad cross-section of industries. Today we find Lean performance improvement initiatives in everything from banking and financial services, to U.S. military and state and local government operations, and even the fast-food business and dentistry.
Lean’s greatest impact on executive performance in both manufacturing and service sectors is very clear to me. Lean helps management and associates at all levels in the organization uncover and identify the problems, from your customer’s point of view, that need to be solved in your business. This is its real strategic value. As you become faster and more adaptable in meeting customer requirements at ever higher levels of quality, you build customer satisfaction. And that translates into top-line advantage – organic growth – and bottom-line success – profitability – with the added benefit of enhanced employee engagement at all levels within your company. And aren’t these major factors in how we define and measure successful executive performance?
MISHRA: How do you assess the desired skills and capabilities of executives in the areas of lean manufacturing and service?
ZAK: Back in the day when every company simply wanted to recruit someone who had worked for or been trained by Toyota or their kieretsu companies, it didn’t take all that much effort to make an assessment. But most North American and European companies learned pretty quickly that they were not a Toyota, and what they really needed was to identify Lean leaders who could adapt their experience to the existing company culture and environment. Today my work is traditional in that I look for traits which are considered consistent with strong executive leadership. But what really super-charges my evaluations of candidates is another layer of filters I employ for these additional critical skill sets: change management, empowerment and respect for people (a key pillar of the Toyota Management System), collaboration, passion for continuous improvement, process focus, and drive towards outcome-based activity.
How, you ask? Ah, that’s the secret sauce! But I can tell you that we use a proprietary methodology called pdcaSearchâ„¢ which I created based on Dr. Deming’s principles of Plan-Do-Check-Act (P-D-C-A). This is also a key tool in Lean transformation, and we’ve used that tool for the foundation of our executive search process.
MISHRA: How would you describe the current landscape of application of Edwards Deming’s QA Principles and Toyota’s Lean Manufacturing?
ZAK: It has not yet lived up to its potential, so we still have quite a way to go. And I believe that there are three key factors underlying this deficit.
The first is that many companies have been led somewhat astray and gotten bogged down by all the great tools which Deming and the Toyota Production System provide for us. But Lean is not about the tools. It is about using the appropriate tools within the context of a systemic, top-down transformation effort within the organization. Lean needs to become “how we do things around here” and not just a lot of periodic shop floor level activity led by “Kaizen Kowboys” whenever the mood strikes us. Only under such circumstances can Lean become so deeply ingrained in our corporate culture that it will withstand changes in markets, products, technology, competitors and yes, even changes within our own management ranks.
Secondly, a different perspective. To a disappointing degree, we sometimes see even formerly strong Lean-thinking companies begin to slide backwards. They lose the ability to build on past progress and to sustain improved outcomes and financial gains. Partially this is directly related to the “Kaizen Kowboy” mentality just mentioned. But often it’s just really a case of no one minding the store. The solution here, I believe goes right back to Deming’s P-D-C-A cycle. Our Lean leaders and champions must periodically and regularly go back to the basics and audit, if you will, the activities and processes in every value stream within the organization, clearly report on these, and have the responsible individuals and teams take action towards desired outcomes. In other words, we need to build in a process for continuously improving our continuous improvement methods. This will further strengthen the walls of the Lean fortress.
And thirdly, by limiting ourselves to seeing only what goes on within the “four walls” of our enterprise, we’re missing what is possibly the greatest potential pay-off from thinking Lean: the tremendous hidden and untapped operational and financial kinetic energy which lies across our integrated supply chain. If we can use Lean to dramatically improve the operations of our outsource partners and eliminate the weaknesses inherent in non-Lean supply and distribution channels, just imagine the collective impact we could make on people-planet-profits. Sorry, I didn’t mean to get into a Green/Sustainability discussion. But maybe we’ll have some time a bit later.
MISHRA: Has the Jack Welch pool of executives been a source for your executive placements?
ZAK: Surprisingly perhaps, not as many as you might expect. Under Jack Welch, Six Sigma was the primary GE religion. Some of GE’s business units, notably Aerospace and Medical Systems, had begun experimenting with Lean based on the model of GE “workouts” which were in some ways similar to Kaizen events. Within the last few years, Lean has become widespread as the continuous improvement umbrella across GE’s business units, and the combination of Lean and Six Sigma at all level is proving to be a powerful influence on operations. We expect to be seeing more and more executive candidates coming out of General Electric.
MISHRA: What have you found to be the educational background and on the job experience you select for executive placements?
ZAK: I’ve found that our clients’ search requirements vary so considerably that it’s difficult to offer a compact and precise answer to your question. However, there are some patterns which I discuss in a special report that I’m just putting the finishing touches on titled (tentatively) Supply Chain Executive, Generation 3.0. This report will be available as a PDF download at http://MySupplyChainExecutive.com within a few days after the conclusion of the 2009 Biotech Supply Chain Academy conference on October 19 and 20.