Is Lean still on the Wagon or is it Ready to Fly?


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Recently, I have been involved in a LinkedIn Thread, When Lean fails, most people draw the wrong conclusion and assume it is Leadership. They blame leadership as being shortsighted. I think this view is not only wrong but it is dead wrong. I based this question on a recent blog post, The Difficulty of Mastery = The Difficulty of Lean and this except below:

Our primary problem is not leadership but a long standing culture that is engrained within our organizations. It’s the way we do things. But worse it is also the way others help us do things. The outside forces that surround us to include vendors, customers and for that matter our entire supply chain simply supports the way we have always done things. So, not only do we have to create change internally but externally as well. It is not only a pain but it has to be someone else’s pain. Or does it?

The predominant response has been that I am flat out wrong. Leadership is always ultimately responsible. I encourage you to participate. There are a boat-load of great comments. In addition, a few of mine are sprinkled in. My first reply in this conversation:

Ultimately we can always blame leadership because they are the “leaders.” I am not saying Leadership does not take responsibility, I think most of them do. You listed a long list of deficiencies, how does someone become a leader with that amount of incompetence?

If what you say is true, would we have to agree that Lean must be top down driven? Leaders can mandate a cultural change or in milder terms lead one? My point is that a leader (Superman only comes around occasionally) alone may not be able to effectively accomplish a culture change. The organization alone may not be able to do it. External forces such as suppliers and customers must also be willing (you may have to shed yourself of a couple of each).

I think it is to easy to just say leadership. Does leadership influence everything? Will they be the ones to be help responsible? I agree, no arguments. However, I think the focus of leadership alone being help responsible is outdated. If we encourage collaboration and empower the workforce – there has to be shared responsibility to make it all work.

I challenge these thoughts because I feel for Lean to grow it has to move away from the assumption that it is always Leadership’s fault. I think we are moving towards a more collaborative organizational structure and with that more shared responsibilities.

In that structure, there are influencers based on Internal, External and Methodologies that will be dependent on Individual and Team responsibilities for success. This is the prescription for transformation or change. I believe Lean is the methodology of choice but stop short of accepting the status quo that has been challenged throughout this thread.

For Lean to proliferate it cannot just rely on Leadership and willpower to hold the course. Do you need it, yes. But we also use to travel from coast to coast in a covered wagon and arrive with a whole new group of people. Now we do it in 4 hours and complain about waiting 5 minutes for luggage (Forget which comedian said this).

My point is that if we are moving to a more collaborative work-style and co-producing and co-creating products with customer, should responsibility be redefined? Should this atmosphere create a shorter cycle of transformation? Should our value stream be only an internal process? Will customers ever leave us co-create with them without accountability driven down to our lowest level of engagement?

I believe Lean is positioned to do this but see this future clouded by thoughts of only Leadership is responsible and that Lean is a journey that takes time. The world is becoming more collaborative and doing things in real time. Should Lean not be mimicking that experience? A better question might be, is Lean still on the wagon or is it ready to fly?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


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