Companies are finally looking more at the big picture when it comes to lean. They may have trouble bringing that picture into focus, but at least they are beginning to see it.
That’s the conclusion I come to after speaking with Michael Kuta, who sees lean from the consultant’s perspective. Mike is managing partner of Productivity, Inc. (And no, I wasn’t speaking to someone in my own company. Productivity Press and Productivity, Inc. were, at one time, under the same ownership. But Productivity, Inc. has since been spun off as a separate business. We publish books, they do consulting, training and conferences.)
Most companies he and the other consultants work with, Mike says, are already doing something with lean, to some degree. But they’re hitting a wall.
One problem, he says, is deployment. Companies can’t seem to move from their vision or strategy to the workplace, with the result that “employees are not working on those workplace activities that are directly supporting the strategy.”
That, he says, suggests “a continued lack of discipline in standard work.”
Related to deployment is the issue of project management, where Mike also sees a lack of discipline.
“I don’t see organizations having a structured way to manage the daily activities of their change process and waste elimination. I don’t see organizations having a way to monitor and measure the influence or impact of their projects,” he comments.
These trends have changed the consulting business. “When people call us today, the days of them calling here and wanting to talk about ‘can you do changeover reduction workshops’ – those days are pretty much gone. It’s ‘can you help us deploy and manage the process?’ That’s the big call out there now,” he says.
Another problem in lean implementations, Mike adds, is that, to support a transformation, you need “a critical mass of people who understand what needs to be done so they can make a contribution.” As a result, he notes, “we see a lot of people calling here today, not really asking for individual tools, but asking for an educational curriculum – the whole package.”
To deal with these trends, Mike and the other consultants try to “position the needed change under an umbrella of leverage, wanting to leverage all the good things a company is doing. Because most organizations have some kind of improvement plan, we don’t advocate going back to zero and starting over again.”
Instead, they follow a kind of variation on PDCA (plan, do, check, act). It’s more check, act, plan, do: Check what the company is currently doing, make the necessary adjustments to get them back on track and move forward.
I’ve often criticized people and organizations that view lean simply as a set of tools, so I’m encouraged by what Mike is saying. True commitment to, and involvement in, lean is still pretty rare, but if companies are looking more at overall deployment vs. kaizen events, we may be headed in the right direction.