Roundtable 5 – How do you teach lean ‘up’ the organization?

Staatsrat by jonas k under Creative Commons Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike

[tweetmeme source=”leanisgood” service=”” only_single=false]The ‘posters’ of the Lean Is Good blog have grown to four in number. Each of us brings a different background and set of experiences around Deming, lean, and learning. How could we leverage this diversity of thought and voice for the benefit of our readers? We ‘planned’ and came up with an idea that we could each briefly answer a question once a week.  We will post a poll so that readers can interact when it is reasonable for the question asked. The order that the answers appear in will be randomized each time. Please join us by adding your comments. We would like to hear from you.

The question:

How do you teach lean “up” in the organization? Do some people “up” in the organization learn faster or slower than others? Which ones?

The answers:

Bryan (posts)

I don’t know. I have never successfully taught up beyond the plant manager level. Even that did little good at the end of the day because he was still measured on the old batch, push, recover overheads, and inventory is an asset scorecard. At the executive level, I have tried methods of giving books to read, giving presentations, recommending seminars, and also walking the value stream and having operators phycically showing their improvements.

I fondly remember one day in a value stream where we had improved dock to dock lead time from 36 days to 9 days, quality by 60%, scrap by 20%, and safety by 47%. A big piece of this was removing an old “monument” piece of equipment which had a 20 minute changeover time but processed parts very fast at 0.5s per part. We proudly showed our President of NA Manufacturing the “moonshined” equipment with a 4 second changeover time but had doubled the part process time to 1 second. This was a major hurdle to improving the entire value stream metrics and all the President could say was that he should fire me for increasing the process time!

Bottom line, I don’t know how to teach up to the executive level (yet), which of course is the only way a truly successful lean enterprise can be developed! My experience is they either “get it” or the don’t. I’ll keep trying though and let you know any breakthroughs!

Kim (posts)

For this blog I keep any discussions and experiences away from my current organization. In the TPM coordinator position it was not that people “up” in the organization needed taught lean. They had an earlier and more in depth exposure to it in many cases than I had. Some of my management had been to Japan to observe TPM and lean in that culture. What I found was more of a need to show or walk them through how to do it on the floor level. I find that cognitively,  people (including myself) get lean in theory but become paralyzed when it comes to putting into practice.

“I remember America…

When freedom of speech wasn’t every four-letter word a sailor never said”

John Stewart – I Remember America

Bruce (posts)

It’s tough.  It is especially hard if those that you are “teaching up” are stuck on things local optimization instead of value stream optimization.  I try to get people to go to where the work happens and see problems and try to get them to understand that the answer are already on the floor.  They just have to get people engaged and given them a system or mechanism for trying things and implementing what works.  That helps get you part way there.  Many of the tools can be taught because they can help most organizations regardless of their orientations towards lean or traditional manufacturing.  Reducing changeover time, getting work performed in more uniform fashions are almost never bad things even if the business is run by the old rules.

I have never been successful in teaching lean ‘up’ an organization when the people I was trying to teach were being held accountable to metrics like headcount reduction, overhead recovery, end of month inventory, production versus budgeted production.  When the organization rewards people for running the plant out of inventory at the end of the month causing disruptions in beginning of the following month, it is hard to convince them to stabilize inventory.  When people are rewarded for purposely overproducing in order to over recover overheads and then ‘inventory’ the costs, it is hard to convince them that the right thing is to synchronize to demand.  It is even harder to convince them to do it because you are asking them to do something contrary to their own financial interest.  When an organization rewards pulling as much of the next quarter’s demand forward in to the last few weeks of the current one with sales incentives, it is hard to convince people that right thing to do is level demand.  It is the higher level concepts that are hard to teach when the organization is ‘set up’ on old minded metrics.

Those are our answers.  We would really like to here from you in the comments below.

Last week we asked our readers: “Would you rather do three great improvement activities or 1 great one?”

Most would take 3 good activities over 1 great one.

Here is a Youtube video of the song that Kim quoted above.  Nice song.


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2 Responses

  1. I don’t think you can lean up in an organization. If it happens, it’s incredibly rare. They either want to get it or they don’t, and if it wasn’t their initiative to begin with, good luck making it happen.

  2. I think that while it is hard to “teach up” part of the problem is that these are people that have been successful at what they have done for a long time and there aren’t a lot of examples that you can point to where these executives can talk to people at their own level and discuss real advantages.
    Part of this is our own fault – we tend to talk in terms of lead time reduction and elimination of waste but we don’t put in terms of finance. If instead of talking about lead time we talked about limiting the amount of time cash is tied up on the plant floor we might have more success.
    The other major issue with teaching up is our own skill set – while most of us can make a presentation, many of these concepts have to look at the entire product value chain and tie together many different impacts on the organization. Working through these issues in a way that respects the executive’s business insight is not an activity that most operations people are skilled at.

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