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business, leadership, lean thinking

A Solution Without a Problem

You are non-value added, Charles,” I was told. “Your sole job is to take care of the team member who is creating the value.”Toyota Trainer to Charles Luttrell (from Toyota Culture: The Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker and Michael Hoseus)

One of the basic requirements for establishing an effective annual plan that many companies seemingly miss is a clear and consistent organizational purpose across the company.  Without clarity around why the organization exists, people will determine what is important based on their own perspective rather than that of the company, as a whole.  When this happens, it can lead to overloading people to the point where teamwork and performance is negatively affected.

Confusion around the purpose is what drives teams to create initiatives that may seem important to them but do nothing to help the company achieve its purpose.  The supply chain team implementing a new system for requisitioning material, the finance department changing the way expense reports are submitted, or process engineering installing robots on the shop floor are all examples of initiatives that may appear important to the teams driving them but can be unhelpful and disruptive to the teams working to produce products or serve customers.

What Problem Are You Solving?

When you get down to it, there are two basic jobs within an organization.  You either serve customers or help others serve customers.  Serving customers generally includes making products or delivering a service to end users – i.e., those things that generate revenue for the company.  Those who do this add value directly whereas everyone else delivers indirect value by helping those who deliver value solve problems and serve customers better.

Solving problems does not necessarily entail spending time and money on the latest technology or trend in the field.  It does entail spending time at gemba with those who provide value to understand their problems and find ways to help solve them.  Although it may involve implementing the latest technology, in many cases it does not.  It’s all about understanding and gaining agreement that a new project will solve problems and make life easier for those who provide value.

When the purpose is clear to everyone in the organization, people will understand their roles and focus everything they do on improving the value the company, as a whole, provides.  Just as a company cannot hope to sell a product that customers are not interested in buying, a support function cannot hope to add value by selling a new initiative that its internal customers do not want.

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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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