Every company has to decide where to start their Lean journey!
I was watching my grandson playing with his toys in the living room the other day. He was having fun until he tried to get the next toy that was slightly beyond his reach.
He tried to stand up and move towards the toy but ended up falling over. Unperturbed, he made another attempt to reach the toy but ended up pushing it further away from him. He is a persistent little fellow and his attention was totally focused on his primary goal, which was to “Get that toy.” After several failed attempts I could no longer sit and watch him struggle, I decided to help him reach his goal. I picked up the toy and handed it to him. His face beamed as he giggled and smiled back at me.
You might be asking “What has this story got to do with Lean?” Well, it describes perfectly the same process that a business goes through when they are starting on their Lean journey. They see a need to create change in their business and this leads them to develop a vision for the future. This was just like my grandson focusing his attention on the toy and creating a vision of reaching it. The first step most companies take is to learn about Lean principles and how to apply them into the workplace. Next, they try to determine where to apply their newly acquired Lean knowledge. It is the decision making process about where to start their improvements that creates a dilemma. Where do they start? What do they need to improve first?
Every business has to come to the same decision point before they can proceed with their Lean journey. The area of the business where they decide to focus their resources will determine if they are going to be successful or not. Companies often choose an area to start their improvement process based on opinion instead of using data. This is their first mistake because everyone involved in the decision making process has an opinion. Only a few of them will be on the right track. Using opinion to determine where to focus valuable resources is like someone taking their pay check to Las Vegas and gambling it in a casino in the hope of doubling their money. The odds are actually stacked against them leaving the casino with more than a single dollar in their pocket. What is the best method for deciding where to start making improvements?
Many companies will start their decision making process using Lean tools such as Value Stream Mapping, 5S, etc. However, the problem with this approach is that most of them are shooting at a target in the dark trying to decide where to go to first. They will choose an area and try to improve it. This is called “Point Kaizen”. It is not focusing on achieving the best bang for the buck by taking into account the impact of the change on the entire organization. The directive for where to focus valuable company resources should come from the executive management team. The decision making process should include two way communication to give feedback; that is starting from the leadership level down to the shop floor and back up again. The system for achieving this two way communication is called “Hoshin Kanri or Strategy Deployment.” This process was developed by the Japanese and has been tried, tested, and refined over several years. The problem is that many companies have no understanding of what “Hoshin Kanri” is, let alone how to implement it!
Hoshin Kanri guides the executive management team towards the 5W1H of improvement, this is: what to improve, where to improve it, why it needs improving, when it needs improving, who is responsible for improving it and how it is going to be improved. The only way for this process to work is to involve every level of the organization in the decision making process. The idea that executive leaders know and understand the business on all levels is a myth. They only know what is happening based on feedback from the lower levels of the organization, they do not know if the information has been pencil whipped or manipulated. However, when they distribute their ideas for implementing change to create a new vision for the business down through the lower levels of the organization they receive feedback that is based in reality. This feedback process is called “Catch ball.” This is the same process as when I picked up the toy and handed it to my grandson, he was trying to grab it but it was out of reach. Hoshin Kanri identifies and prioritizes the strategic business processes that must be improved. This aligns everyone to focus on the same things which brings them within easy reach.