Building on Chris’ recent post, I was talking with a colleague who shared a disheartening example of a retailer that was attempting to launch a new process improvement program with a very narrow approach. The deployment leader had determined that rather than focus on a holistic approach to process improvement or even focus on a toolkit such as Lean or Lean Six Sigma, they would focus on launching a single tool into the organization. While there is no doubt that a single tool can bring value, my challenge comes from the way in which the tool was selected and whether the approach actually fits the organizational needs.
While the leadership of the organization expressed some concerns as to whether the single-focus would work, they gave the go ahead to essentially invest over a million dollars to support the launch after doing a simple pilot that yielded only moderate benefits (and not even demonstrated through a scientific method). A scan of the organization revealed that the critical challenge faced by this retailer was much broader than what a single tool could enable. Rather than focusing on key failure and pain points in the value chain or fully understanding the organizational culture, the decision was made to deploy a tool which had demonstrated results in a prior deployment in a very different sector and with a very different organizational context.
In a subsequent conversation with another leader in a different retailer, a similar story was shared in which they decided to adopt a few key tools from Lean to drive transformational change. This leader expressed great concern that such a narrow focus would likely bring limited outcomes and become the “flavour of the month” program.
In both cases, shouldn’t one ask whether:
- There was a solid assessment of the organizational needs and culture?
- The challenges faced by the organization have similar underlying root causes and whether the treatment of these could benefit from a singular approach?
- Thought had been placed on long-term sustainability of the program and the necessary cultural implications?
The recent work from Mike Rother (Toyota Kata) would tend to reinforce that the real impact of Lean is not from the tools but rather the overall underlying cultural focus on driving continuous improvement at all levels.
While I hope that these two deployments are very successful I’m very alarmed as it is examples like these that bring into question the validity and importance of investing in Operational Excellence programs.
Such examples also bring into question how organizations can ensure that in recruiting a new deployment leader they can ensure that they focus on a leader that has sufficient breadth of expertise to build a deployment that truly fits the organizational needs and culture while maximizing the likelihood of business outcomes rather than rely on a few past successes. I will explore this topic in greater depth in a subsequent post.
What other examples have you seen around a narrow tool focus and the associated risks? What successes have you seen despite this narrow focus?