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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: What’s Your Strive Vector?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question:  Is there a lean way of dealing with falling sales?

Conventional lean responses to falling sales — like adjusting production to customer takt and giving rebates to help levelize demand — reflect a view of Lean and Continuous Improvement that will be too narrow for sustained competitiveness.

We tend to apply Lean inside our comfort zone, honing our existing ways of doing something. Unfortunately, if we don’t also establish challenging target conditions outside our comfort zone and current competencies we won’t even perceive the obstacles that would lead us to the learning vectors, innovations and competencies of tomorrow, much less work on them.

As a macro example, if you are in the business of making and selling lawnmowers you can continuously improve and tweak that. But if you are not also iteratively working on the challenge of grass that stops growing at 3 inches, your days may be numbered. Actions such as adjusting production to customer takt and giving rebates are necessary, but they are just short-term reshuffling measures in a moving world.

We’re often advised to focus on our core competencies, but my colleague Gerd Aulinger sees this a trap. Gerd proposes we should focus Lean efforts on our core in-competencies: those capabilities that currently don’t exist in our team/department/organization but will be indispensable for long-term competitiveness and survival.

Every individual, team, department and organization has a current knowledge threshold, and within that horizon are the skills and competencies with which the organization earns its money today. We’ve tended to apply lean inside our knowledge thresholds, going on waste walks for example.

But our competencies today, even if we keep fine-tuning them, are not a guarantee of future success. Don’t forget to keep striving beyond your knowledge thresholds by applying Lean’s improvement pattern there too. To every individual, team, department and organization we can pose questions such as: “What are you trying to get to next?” and, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could (fill in blank)?”

For more on knowledge thresholds click here –> Expanding the Threshold of Knowledge

(I relied on input from my colleagues Gerd Aulinger and Ram R. in writing this post.)

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