Lean Plateau

I recently came across a situation that sounded familiar. I was talking to a group inside a large international company with multiple product lines. They are organized into operational platforms. Each line operates, and is accountable for, individual product lines.

A specific product line gained great international press with their LEAN activities. Even though they were using many of the same techniques 60 years ago. They went so far as creating a moving assembly line of one of the most complicated pieces of machinery in existence. However, it seems the improvements of their LEAN activities has hit a plateau.

This sounds familiar to the story of General Electric and their Six Sigma program. They created experts in defect reduction. Over time they exhausted important projects to work on. General Electric’s solution was to create a consulting firm to teach their methodology to others. So far this group has not gained much acceptance outside their supplier base.

To paraphrase Dr. W. Edwards Deming – What is wrong with reducing defects (Six Sigma), and eliminating waste (LEAN)? It ducks the responsibility of management!

Improvement tools and theories can be learned through a variety of sources. However, successful application requires new methods of management. Much discussion exists in the Six Sigma and Lean community calling for ‘Leadership Support,’ ‘Cultural Commitment,’ ‘Improved Metric,’ ‘Modified Behavior,’ etc., etc.. These phrases are cries from people who have a vested interest in the success of the tools, who started to believe their own hype, and are frustrated because it is not producing everything they promised.

What is needed is the change from the existing style of management to a better system of management, and a method for the transition. Unfortunately neither comes in a management ‘magic pill.’ Although, some might lead you to believe they have one.

Each organization must create their own ‘humanistic system of management.’ The only road I know from management ‘here,’ to management ‘there’ is difficult and rocky. The road involves exploring current practices, or ‘fault practices’ as Dr. Deming calls them. Exposing multiple levels of assumptions, their implications and ramifications. Then challenging those assumptions, devising better practices. Essentially exploring ground rules of knowledge for change.

So where does that leave the previously mentioned production line in the Northwest? They did not share their ‘next step’ strategy. So we will have to wait to hear what it is. Hopefully it will be a meaningful change. And not the usual ‘changing wall paper’ as seen in so many places.

 Dave Nave & Associates 2017   -   dave@davenave.com