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deming, improvement, leadership, lean, management, transformation, Uncategorized

Improvement Requires More Reflection; Less Justification

Using an A3 for business planning is one of those practices that, like many aspects of lean thinking, is simple but not necessarily easy. Although the basic process tends to make sense to people, success requires those involved to exhibit certain behaviors that are so different from the norm that most plans produced by the process result in nothing more than business as usual.

Making Problems Visible

There are few people who will argue with the concept of making an organization’s problems visible. Understanding the role that KPIs or the boards and lights associated with an Andon signal play in problem-solving efforts is not difficult. What does tend to be difficult, though, is applying the same type of thinking to the company’s higher-level planning processes. An organization has little chance of improving performance if its leaders can’t agree on the problems they need to address.

In The Birth of Lean, Taiichi Ohno is quoted as saying that kaizen continuously requires people to, “assume that things are a mess.” Since business planning is fundamentally kaizen at the organizational level, we’ve got to create the idea that things are always a mess. To do this requires that targets are clearly visible and people feel free to openly and honestly reflect on performance against the targets.

During business reviews, it is not uncommon for teams to spend significant effort justifying the performance gaps rather then accepting them and reflecting to understand the reasons that drive the gaps. This is not surprising given the way many organizations to recognize and reward people. When rewards are based on meeting targets rather than addressing problems, people will fight to justify results. The crazy thing about this type of behavior is that most people recognize it – we just don’t tend to do anything about it.

Moving the culture away from justification and toward reflection requires recognizing that the company’s systems and practices may be driving the wrong behaviors. There is always a mess, and it’s got to be okay to recognize and openly admit it in order to free people up to drive improvement.

It’s difficult to say that any single component of business planning is more important than another but without adequate reflection, the organization will fail to recognize its biggest problems and will never move beyond mediocrity. Time and energy spent justifying results is waste, and the sooner we replace it with open and honest introspection the sooner we can bring the big gains into reach.


About Gregg Stocker

Gregg Stocker is a lean advisor for Hess Corporation. He possesses over 20 years experience in a variety of disciplines including operations, manufacturing, human resources, quality, and strategic planning, and has worked in manufacturing, service, and oil & gas industries. He has extensive international experience, including successfully leading an $65 million business in The Netherlands. He authored the book, “Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral: Recognizing & Eliminating the Signs of Decline,” (Quality Press, 2006) and was a contributing author to "The Lean Handbook," (Quality Press, 2012). Gregg is a frequent speaker and recognized expert in business and performance improvement having been interviewed on television, radio, and in a number of newspaper and magazine articles including The New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, and InformationWeek. Gregg has implemented change in organizations ranging in size from $10 million to more than $100 billion. He is a team-oriented leader who achieves results by improving teamwork, focus, and communication throughout the organization.


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