I'm getting some really interesting and constructive comments in my reader survey. Keep it coming. I'll reflect, summarize, and respond to it here on the blog or personally via email. Thanks to those who have taken the time.
One comment I wanted to respond to (and it's just part of a thoughtful comment, the lengthiest of what I received):
I am a bit more on use of an experienced person to study processes, interview employees, observe, than some people who believe all you need to do is empower the existing workforce. There are a lot of tools one needs to apply, experience in process improvement makes the whole effort accelerate and increase in impact, and frankly the results are better, It's like saying no one knows one's body better than one's self therefore only you can really improve it so why go to medical people. Rather you know what doesn't feel right (as do employees in a process) but without an MD you may not be able to suggest fixes.
Yes! I agree wholeheartedly that you need to do more than free up employee time to get real, meaningful, lasting improvements in an organization (whether it's a hospital or a factory). I also love the MD analogy.
I probably do overplay the “get your employees involved” and “just go to the gemba and listen to your employees” cards a bit. As a consultant, maybe I'm a bit sensitive to not overplay the role of a trusted consultant (or, though I shudder a bit to use the term… a “sensei”). I don't use the term “sensei” because I'm not Japanese, nor are my clients, but that's a different discussion.
I do articulate in my book that organizations need a good consultant for a number of reasons (and I just became “that guy who quotes himself” — sorry! I hope this isn't the moment I “Jump the Shark.“).
On page 31 of Lean Hospitals:
Continued coaching, training, and mentoring are required, whether coming from outside consultants, internal process improvement leaders, or the direct line management and administrators themselves.
On page 217:
Regardless of the exact makeup, the Lean team requires a project leader and coach, either an outside consultant or an internal Lean leader from a process improvement department. The coach should not be expected to come up with all of the answers, nor can he or she be expected to “make you Lean” without any effort of your own. In fact, many coaches will, after training the team in Lean concepts, insist on not giving answers. Instead, the sensei will guide the team by asking questions and having the team develop its own solutions.
The outsider alone doesn't know enough (most likely) to come up with the answers. The staff, on their own, might not push hard enough or get outside of their usual comfort zone.
A good Lean consultant can teach concepts that the employees might not have considered before, such as “single piece flow” (reducing batches) and error proofing as a quality strategy.
The equation I use might go something like this (and maybe it's really multiplicative, not additive):
Just turning employees loose with some time to “fix things” might lead to a lot of meetings or just some small incremental change. At the least, you have to give the employees time *and* some training in Lean concepts. “Quick and Easy Kaizen” might get you so far — employees can give “obvious” suggestions like “get the machine fixed properly” and “get us better lighting.” But, I think you also need Lean principles and concepts to get to the big waste in the process. I could be wrong… but I wonder how many teams, left to the own, would come up with radical overhauls that can come with Lean thinking?
For example, when I work with hospital laboratories, the lab employees (as smart and hard-working as they are) probably wouldn't come up with the “Lean” layouts that we do without Lean Concepts (knowledge) and Leadership (the guts to take a risk and try something new). You're right — the results ARE better with a combination of internal and external knowledge.
I think adding good coaching / consulting to the mix will increase the results even more. Part of that coaching includes the direct line leaders of the organization, who play a important role in setting direction and vision, keeping those in line with organizational values.
If anything is missing from that above equation, you won't reach your full potential. If you just have Lean principles (like a lot of training or reading) without leadership or time to act — you'll probably get zero. If you have a great outside consultant with Lean knowledge, but no involvement from the staff, you won't get much (or the change won't last without buy in from the staff).
What's your experience with the balance between internal process knowledge and outside influence?
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