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David Meier

David Meier: Do Lean with people rather than to people

By David Meier, - Last updated: Sunday, July 6, 2014 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

This sounds like a classic case of doing lean “to” people rather than with people. But let’s go back to the original question- the fact of the matter is that the challenges of getting lean grow as you proceed. People think that if you get lean life is supposed to be easy. The opposite is true. Use the famous “low hanging fruit” analogy. After the “low fruit” (easy stuff) is picked what is left? The difficult challenges. The low hanging fruit were items that were in place to compensate for the underlying issues. Take them out and the issues emerge (the old water and rocks analogy).

Back to his other challenges-
Perhaps the BOD is correct that the inventory is too low. There are so many variables that go into the necessary level of inventory, but mainly what the sales strategy is. Such as direct or through distributors. Also the production processes used to make the products. We always strive for just in time, but there is some gray area within the definition. (Toyota for example touts that they only produce a vehicle that has been purchased, but that is not entirely true. Toyota Motor Sales (in the USA) HAS purchased the vehicle, but not the actual user. (just look at any car lot).

My experience with engineers specifically is that they at first struggle with the problem solving method (assuming they are using the method correctly). Engineers like and are trained to prefer absolutes and problem solving is full of ambiguity. There are more questions than answers and there is “no one best answer” to most questions. And just like all other humans they just want to jump to the answer and “get it done!” Working through this is of course challenging and requires years to re-condition people to a new way of solving problems.

As for unions and laws…..must be France! I was just there and there are certainly challenges! No offense to you Michael or other French people, but this is a pretty big issue and really has little to do with lean. But I can say this- if lean is done TO people they will resist no matter how “good” it is for them (we all resist the medicine even though it will “cure” us). The lean activity is driven external to the actual work process rather than initiated from within.

It is necessary to begin lean activities from an external position, but it must transition to internal. This is usually where organizations fall short. It is mentioned that he has “leadership support” but that is not internal. Are leaders initiating activities based on company needs and objectives and enrolling people in the effort to achieve the goals? This is accomplished through the hoshin process at Toyota. When I see other companies attempt hoshin the leadership typically develops “action plans” and cascades the “plan” (I have that is quotes because what is called a plan is not really, and why does leadership dictate the action required anyway?). The role of leadership is to set the direction, the need, and the timing and help explain why it is necessary, yet I often see the plan laid out by leadership that directs the actions to accomplish the goal.

One of the most valuable statements I picked up (From the book “How Toyota became number one” I think was the title) is the notion that Toyota leaders have (which they got from Samuel Smiles) was this- “It is considered DISRESPECTFUL to take away the privilege from people to solve their own problems.” When I read that I FINALLY understood why none of my trainers or senseis EVER told me the answer to any problem! They were trying to teach us to gather facts, evaluate, and choose a course of action and then to evaluate the result and choose the next course of action. In other words they were teaching PDCA and for sure it was frustrating!

We have all been conditioned to a certain way of thinking that says there is a question (2 + 2) and there is a CORRECT answer (4). If you get the answer incorrect you fail and sit in the corner. In REAL life applications there are trade offs to every decision. Every “good” idea comes with some negative element. In the reality of space and time we are dealing with OPTIONS and none of them is perfect. Think about the very idea of continuous improvement. The term implies infinite. And it is. So if there is not “perfect” answer (the one where we get the correct answer and move to the head of the class), we struggle with the choices.

There are many techniques in the PS process to help with this challenge, but the fact is there are very few black and white answers. People who like life to be black and white will surely struggle. And to a degree the PS process can drive a person crazy! The point is to seek the root causes and very often it is difficult or even impossible in the current state to say with absolute certainty that the root causes have been found. In reality many provlems occur only when more than one varialbe is altered at the same time so it is difficule to isolate a single variable (cause).

These things can frustrate people. So back to the question- some level of frustration or angst is normal as people struggle with learning a process that IS NOT common sense. It will make sense once learned, but in the beginning our conditioned response (our common sense) will cause us to act in a way OPPOSITE from what we should do. Rewiring our neural pathways is a challenge! (Just ask Mike Rother for details!).

Ok have to get back to work now. Michael I did not mean to bash the French. I think the French people are ahead of the curve actually. What I saw in my travels to France (and everywhere else) is the challenge of bringing humanity to the mundane and often unpleasant tasks that must be done (Dirty Jobs) such as collecting the rubbish (little European lingo there).

When I visit Japan I see people treat every task with a reverence almost. People are attentive. People show concern. I see it in bits and pieces in other places. My conclusion is that is comes back to leadership and helping people to understand the relevance of what they do. It is not just a “job.” I have witnessed successes in the places where everyone else said it can’t be done, and the key factor was always leadership. Leadership sets the tone and creates the culture. Either on purpose or by default.

The question I always ask myself when I see problems like this CEO mentions he sees is “What am I not doing as a leader that is creating this condition?” If he has people hating the process then it starts with himself and it is good he is asking, but like all things there are many reasons, and the “right way” is not easy to grasp. Most people want quick easy answers, and the trouble is the low fruit has been collected. Now it gets more challenging.

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