Guest Post: Lean Leaders Conference, Part 1 – Do Senseis Need Trace Back to Ohno?
Mark's note: You may recognize the author of this guest post, Andrew Castle, as a previous contributor and frequent commenter on my blog. I was offered a press pass to a lean event in the UK, an invite I was able to pass along to Andrew. Here is his report, the first part of four posts that will run over the next few weeks.
IQPC staged their first “Lean Leaders” conference in London on July 5th and 6th and the flyers suggested that it would be something different. Not hour upon hour of power-point and a couple of days of your life that you can not get back, but a more discursive and facilitative event valuing contributions from those in attendance.
I should state at this point that many of the conferences I've been to over the past few years have been death by power-point and that when I started going the aspiration was to get one interesting point from each presenter on each day. This eventually evolved in to one point in the morning and one in the afternoon on each day until finally, last year, just one point at all would be considered a victory.
So in spite of my incredibly low expectations the conference was in fact very interesting – the PowerPoint had not been completely eliminated, but there was an enormous amount of discussion about a variety of topics related to Lean, Operational Excellence and Change Management and almost all of it was very interesting.
The discussion covered far too much ground to reproduce in this article so I thought that I would simply highlight some observations that were made during the course of two days that appeared to resonate with those present. I'll also discuss the audiences and my own views of them and where I think a forum like this has a place in the current economic climate.
The themes that I think it is worth re-examining (in this and future posts) from the conference are:
- To Centralise or De-centralise Service Improvement / Lean
- Measurement (including financial accountability)
- Culture – leadership, behaviour and senior management and executives recognizing that it is not free and that they need to invest in senior people
An observation that was made by the opening plenary speaker, Michael Balle', related to how organizations wishing to pursue “Lean” (other monikers are available) should identify and select a “Sensei”. His response was that one should be selected based on the ability to trace their “Lean pedigree / history” back to Ohno and his descendents.
There were a number of views on this and there are definitely pros and cons to each. The argument that you should be able to trace the lineage is sound in so far as you would want to ensure that the person that is acting in the “teacher / mentor” role has the experience and the knowledge to undertake supporting an organisation-wide transformation.
The second obvious advantage of this method of selecting a Sensei is that you are not going to end up with an individual whose understanding and experience of Lean was gained through an evening class at a local community college. That said, however, I'm not entirely convinced that the only alternative to an Ohno-trained Lean Sensei is one with virtually no experience.
I think that this method of selecting a Sensei presents several issues, including:
- Is a sensei necessary to a successful Lean Transformation?
- The pool of individuals that could satisfy these criteria is limited
The discussion that continued over the course of two days made it clear that there are as many approaches to undertaking a Lean Transformation as there are businesses doing so. Their were multinationals that had undertaken the programme with little or no external influence with success and others that had pursued external support and found that it did not work due to issues of differences in attitude, culture and behaviours.
I think that any organisation undertaking, or considering undertaking a transformation programme can make an informed decision upon the use of Senseis, where they might find them and what sort of experience they should have through attending forums and conferences such as this. A forum where their peers are able to provide feedback on what works / what doesn't, and how or why they might do things differently if they were starting again is definitely worth the price of admission.