Lack of a direction-giving vision is a lack of leadership
Our colleague Art Smalley cautions Lean Edge readers to not get overly bogged down by mysterious sounding notions of ideal future states. I agree that many teams are frustrated by an inability to achieve, as Art nicely puts it, some vague conceptual notion of a perfect future state that has been written on a white board. But this doesn’t mean you don’t need a vision, because without a vision:
- We tend to jump from one direction to another.
- Proposals get evaluated independently, instead of as part of striving for something.
I see no reason why EVERY organization should not adopt the vision of 1×1 flow for the customer, because that simply means you are striving to give the customer what s/he wants or needs, when and where s/he wants or needs it. In the long run that’s an inevitable trajectory for any business. Either you strive for that, or some other organization will. I invite you to check out the following short SlideShare presentation to see what I mean:
Here’s a specific example of the importance of a vision, from Toyota Kata:
At an assembly process that produces automotive ABS-sensor cables (a bundle of wires with a connector at one end and a sensor at the other) we found a batch size of one week. That is, a five-day sales quantity of one sensor-cable type is assembled, and then the process is changed over to produce a five-day batch of another type.
A quick capacity calculation showed that there was enough free capacity to permit more changeovers and smaller assembly batch sizes. The assembly area could easily set a target condition of a one-day batch size.
Almost immediately the assembly manager said, “We can’t do that!” and went on to explain why. “Our cable product is a component of an automobile safety system and because of that each time we change over to assembling a different cable we have to fill out lot-traceability paperwork. We also have to take to the quality department the first new piece produced and delay production until the quality department gives us an approval. If we reduce the assembly lot size from five days to one day we would increase that paperwork and those production delays by a factor of five. Those extra non-value-added activities would be waste and would increase our cost. We know that lean means eliminate waste, so reducing the lot size is not a good idea.”
The plant manager agreed, and therein lies a significant difference from Toyota. A Toyota plant manager would likely say something like this to the assembly manager:
“You are correct that the extra paperwork and first-piece inspection requirements are obstacles to achieving a smaller lot size. Thank you for pointing that out. However, the fact that we want to reduce lot sizes is not optional nor open for discussion, because it moves us closer to our vision of a 1×1 flow. Rather than discussing whether or not we should reduce the lot size, please turn your attention to those two obstacles standing in the way of our progress. Please observe the current paperwork and inspection processes and report back what you learn. After that I will ask you to make a proposal for how we can move to a one day lot size without increasing our cost.”
Our abilities need to be channeled
As the example illustrates, without a direction we tend to evaluate proposals individually on their own merits, rather than as part of striving toward something. This creates that back-and-forth, hunting-for-a-solution, whomever-is-currently-most-persuasive effect in the organization… those endless discussion meetings that all of us are tired of.
Specifically, without a sense of direction we tend to use a short-term cost/benefit analysis to decide and choose on a case-by-case basis whether or not something should be done – in which direction to head and what to do – rather than working through the obstacles on the way to a challenging, new level of performance.
The members of your organization possess great ability to meet challenges, if you lead and manage in a way that mobilizes and channels that ability.