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Peter Handlinger

Peter Handlinger: To fully and deeply commit to the PDCA cycle, all day, every day

By Peter Handlinger, - Last updated: Sunday, March 25, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

If you had to force a one liner statement from me in answer to the above question I guess it would have to be “To fully and deeply commit to the PDCA cycle, all day, every day”.

But what does this mean practically in terms of behaviour and results? Some very clear guidelines have been offered in the previous sections. Also, many references to Toyota have been made and, having spent 14 odd years in Toyota, I can recognize many of the behaviours described. Of course, whilst at Toyota we did not understand the meaning of Lean – but were schooled in the art of TPS by our ‘coaches’ or co-ordinators from TMC. They lead our lean evolution so to speak. Being located in Africa we were a very big fish in a small pond and the transition from this to becoming part of the global production chain was exciting, and traumatic. It challenged our worldview and beliefs about our own abilities! And this, for me, is the first imperative of a (lean?) leader – to clearly paint the goal.

How to align management practices to this vision was the next step – and probably the most difficult part of the leadership process. And this is to get management to understand that they are the cause of good or bad performance (people, process and quality). Always easy to accept that you are the ‘facilitator’ of a good result – the flip side of the same coin is a bit more difficult to swallow. Aligning management is the second significant test of good leadership. To give you an example. One of my (then) colleagues was truly astounded when his co-ordinator told him, simply “You are the problem” (many of us had similar experiences). It took most of us quite a while to digest this – but once we realized that this, in fact, was true, change started to happen – because we knew where it had to start, within us.

The TMC co-ordinators then schooled us in the art of leading the change process, some less subtly than others. This covered all the traditional TPS / Lean tools. Fundamentally the management thinking moved subtly from a qualitative style to a more quantative one (‘Fact is Fact Peter-san’ is a phrase that still lives with me, everyday). Thus the third imperative for the leadership is to enable its management to think critically. Using A3’s was the vehicle through which this critical thinking was drilled into us.

Understanding this on a cognitive level was easy – doing it an entirely different issue. There was so much to ‘unlearn’. This took time as we learnt how to practice ‘fact is fact’ and train our staff in this thinking. This forced us to get to grips with the real work, training our people and the best way to do this was to get to the Gemba. Consequently the fourth leadership behaviour would be to drive the critical thinking through management to the shopfloor via the structures (think Quality Circles as an example). But leaders also need to understand that this requires ‘space’ within which to happen – which they need to create and foster.

Finally, leaders need to ensure that the learning from each activity is embedded in the DNA of the business. This is simply a process of closing the feedback loop and sharing with other parts of the business the struggles and successes, in detail, via an A3.  A task which, unfortunately for us, was quite foreign.

But all of the above, most will recognize, is the PDCA process. Commit to it fully.

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