Blisters were forming, Arms were tired and the hot sun of the late afternoon began to set in on all of us. As the day went on my family and I were beginning to feel as though we would never have our garden prepared enough to begin planting the seeds we had purchased two weeks before.
Although the work was hard we knew that eventually we would have some beautiful flowers in our newly renovated backyard. The process looked something like this; 1. Remove the rocks and trash from the mud, 2. Remove the weeds in the soil 3. Cultivate and prepare the soil 4. Water and prepare soil again 5. Plant seeds 6. Water 7. Maintain 8. Enjoy.
Let's pretend for a moment that the Garden is your organization; Full of potential and endless opportunities. The weeds would be the issues you will certainly face and the flower seeds are new opportunities. In any organization to some degree the ground is prepared already to one degree or another but over time wind/culture and ideas blow in various types of seeds. Those seeds could be good and yield flowers or they may yield weeds. A lean journey is much like this parable there's the initial stages of the journey assessing what needs to be done the preparing of the soil (Culture/behaviors) and the removal of root causes or in our case weeds and the planting of improvements that will with time and care grow.
Preparing the Soil
The first stage of any Lean Journey is to begin to prepare the soil; We have all at sometime or another had "the man" come and say "do it this way" or maybe you are the man and a few months later you're wondering why the "seed" never stuck. Some seeds can be embedded in rather hard ground and it takes a while for the idea to really breakthrough the current culture or embedded behaviors, for this reason the preparing of the soil is so crucial to the start of your organization's lean journey. Some ideas that will support a Lean startup are;
1. Take a survey of who has experience in Lean and who does not.
2. Find out what "people" think about Lean and or Six Sigma as a strategy.
3. Look for volunteers
4. Brainstorm how you can support the exceptions (rocks, hard soil)
5. Be an example
Water and prepare again
80% of the time "Lean" and "Six Sigma" will appear to have failed. In reality though the Strategy has not failed but rather shown you the exceptions to move the bar up even more. Like a garden you will prepare the garden and after letting the soil sit for some time some little weeds may begin to pop up again. This is the perfect time to say "Forget it, I bought these flowers and tools and worked very hard and now I'm done!" Can you see how silly that sounds? In reality it's the perfect point and time to review your strategies plan, Hoshin Planning or Implementation plan. You can now re strategize and deal with the exceptions or the rocks in the water that have now become visible. Remember much of strategy and Lean is incremental and calculated making small improvements every day and resetting the bar.
Attack the roots
Addressing or deploying just the visible portions of Lean will not make the strategy stick. Although 5S, Kanban and Value Stream mapping are crucial tools of a Lean Strategy the overall goal is to find and eliminate waste, remove burdens and relentlessly pursue perfection. Unles you're growing a garden of weeds take the time to dig down into the soil (foundation for lean) and expose the roots. Once you have done this you will have a much better chance at removing it from your soil and not having it grow back again. This will leave the ground fresh and ready to receive and spread the seeds you plant.
Plant and care for what you want to grow
Now that the soil is prepared and you have the seeds you want to plant begin to place them in strategic locations so that tactically they can start to lay solid roots for the future. like an organization if you place your investment in an area full of rocks and weeds it may get choked out and fall to the wayside. But if your new green belt is placed in an area that is well prepared it will better be able to secure its roots. Don't forget that many plants lay seeds of there own and that allows for more growth without much work on your part. Last but not least is the constant feeding of your precious new seeds and ideas, of course flowers and plants need water, mulch and maintenance and employees or champions need training, challenges and rewards and recognition in order to continue to grow.
A lot of the power of PDCA is in the repetition of the method being performed. Like a garden you will need to continue to remove harmful things that the wind may have blown in and nurture the solid foundations you have invested in. Some great ways to maintain new initiatives or implementation levels are; Clearly defining metrics to track to, frequent audits, suggestion forms and repetition.
Last but not least enjoy the scenery and take in the amazing results
Now that you have good soil, planted seeds and you have been diligently working at growing and maintaining your hard work; take some time to enjoy the scenery. This comes through rewards and recognitions for everyone. If you are an executive come out for that bbq, receive a gas card for your hard work or let somebody shake your hand and say thank you. What ever position you are in be sure that you enjoy the faster throughput, improved quality and extra cash in the budget, In short stop for a second and smell the roses.
A Lean journey is not as hard as it is sometimes made out to be. As long as you have taken the necessary steps to prepare, plant and maintain your garden you can bet that the results will be the most beautiful memories and returns you will ever get.