No more "Is it Friday Yet?"
Nobody starts "doing" LEAN for real without a good reason. Either things have gotten chaotic, or there isn't enough return on investment. The concepts themselves are a light at the end of the tunnel. But, when you first start the journey, it isn't like there aren't plenty of "proceed with caution" signs. Most fail. Not everyone will jump on board. Etc.
LEAN kicks off well enough. We get a group of people, do some training and have some festivities. Have an event. Lots of camaraderie, slaps on the back. Lots of giggles. Then reality. The shine wears off and it is time to "get back to work". It is hard enough for most of us to get out of January with our resolutions intact. How do you get an ENTIRE company to stick to the "resolution" of a LEAN strategy?
Two words. LEARNING ORGANIZATION. From a leadership perspective, we need to change people's perspective from "manufacturer" to learning organization. From "service provider" to learning organization. From "healthcare provider" to learning organization. The curriculum? We will work every single day to become the world's foremost experts on the subject of our customers, our processes, our suppliers, our problems. Mistakes and problems can be thought of as tuition. How do we avoid paying tuition twice for the same "course"?
That is where A3 thinking comes in. We are much likely not to have to learn the same lessons over and over if we can build an all-inclusive process where anyone is capable of leading a 3-5 person, temporary, self-directed team quickly through PDCA or the DMAIC. How do you create a process where everyone in the company learns then teaches? The problem is that kaizen "events" are too infrequent and expensive, and don't involve enough people. Often, they are the result of paying lots of tuition over and over. A3 projects happen every day. A3 teams learn and then teach (at the project "closing"). Tuition is usually paid once because the learnings are taught to the masses-not filed on a report in the computer.
You will never run out of curriculum!. There are hundreds of small improvements that can be made. Defects, excess inventory, safety hazards, overburden, employee suggestions, customer complaints, etc. The hard part is getting everyone to agree that going after these things is important (because we are wicked "busy").
Once you reach the point of no return, it is up to management to use this new process to steer the ship. I guess it is OK for the A3 process to merely be the way a company implements employee suggestions (it's better than a suggestion box). But, it is much, much more powerful to combine it with dashboard metrics and learning to do real policy deployment.
The only constant in companies that achieve the point of no return is change. People have seen the value of making improvements in their own work, and in their own lives, and approach it like sport. It takes less energy to sustain. I was asked recently how the companies that achieve this "point of no return" were able to pivot during the pandemic. The answer is effortlessly and seamlessly.
Once you reach the point of no return, there is a sense of ownership in people where they question and challenge everything. It is almost impossible to stop at this point. No more disgruntlement, no more I just work here, no more is it Friday yet.
Be patient with your lean and you will get to the point-of-no-return. It will be almost impossible to go back!