The fallacy of bottom-up Lean initiatives – Part 3: top-down and bottom-up

the-fallacy-of-bottom-up-lean-initiativesIn the first post of this series, I explained why bottom-up Lean initiatives have little chance to succeed. In the second post I switched the point of view and discussed the top-down driven Lean rollout attempts and their pitfalls. Neither is easy nor a sure way to succeed.

In this third post it is time to bring the conditions for success together.

Guidance comes from above

The system owners or top management are the sole legit to set the system’s / organization’s overall Goal. It is onto the ways(1) to achieve that Goal that all Lean initiatives must align. This is known as the “True North”.

Lean itself is not the Goal, it’s the preferred framework providing a way of thinking, principles, methods and a toolbox to efficiently achieve the Goal.

The Goal must be stated with clarity in order to avoid any misunderstanding and the Goal should be compelling for to motivate the stakeholders to play an active and motivated role in its achievement.

The worst Goal statement I was confronted with was “Survive another year”.

Stating the Goal alone is not enough. Top management should also set a limited set of top level indicators. In Bill Dettmer’s approach using the Goal Tree, those few top level indicators are called Critical Success Factors (CSFs). They are top management’s dashboard and ultimate steps before achieving the Goal.

Those CSFs must be set by top management for at least three reasons:

  1. It would be weird that anybody else defines the indicators by which top management monitors the progress towards the Goal it is responsible for achieving,
  2. Critical Success Factors are most often dictated by strategical analysis or benchmark, which are top management’s responsibility,
  3. Critical Success Factors constrain how the stakeholders will contribute to achieve the Goal. By this third reason I mean remaining consistent with the organization’s purpose, culture and values.

Once the Goal and Critical Success Factors are defined, enough guidance is provided from the top and it’s the subordinate level to take on and propose ways to achieve their goals, which are the CSF. The same will repeat with the next level and so on.

Lean-aware readers will recognize the cascading principle used in Policy Deployment, also known as Hoshin Kanri.

Appraisal comes from above too

If top management provided guidance, its role isn’t over yet. It is top management duty to make sure the whole organization works towards achieving the Goal and to remind and reinforce this guiding principle: working on anything else diverting resources from the achievement of the Goal is waste and is therefore invalid.

Remember, opportunities to improve are always infinite, while resources and time come in limited number. It is therefore mandatory to focus on leverage points and make wise use of limited resources.

I particularly like the Goal Tree because its logical structure lets no room for irrelevant nice-to-have that are immediately visible and their discarding rationally explained.

Enlightened management is about knowing what to do and what not do. And enlightenment can use a little help from a logical tool.

Without promoting the outdated command-and-control model, direction must be set top-down as well as the periodic checking of the organization’s right trajectory.

Constant attention is required over time in order to avoid any drift, deviant behaviors or loss of focus.

Help comes from above. Sometimes.

It’s still not enough to give direction and check the progress towards the Goal. Management’s top-down support is mandatory. By support I mean advice and backup when tough decisions need senior management to give input or take the decision, especially when those decisions lay beyond the field of authority of the lower ranking staff.

Support is also required when a settlement between conflicting objectives must be found.

From the Logical Thinking Process (Theory of Constraint) Body of Knowledge we know that conflict resolution should not seek a consensus (often disguised as “win-win” solution), but a way to “dissolve the conflict so that nobody has to give up anything except their beliefs in false assumptions.

Yet beware of drilling holes into the pyramid (2), meaning do not do what your subordinates have to do.

It is commonly accepted I hope, that leaders have to communicate the “what to change to” (the Goal) as well as the “why” of Lean transformation. It is up to the lower ranking staff in the organization to figure out “how to change”.

Achievement happens bottom-up

Since Policy Deployment or Hoshin Kanri are around, the cascading principle of top-down Goal setting and corresponding bottom-up answers is known.

Just as Hoshin Kanri, the Goal Tree uses the same principle: when the lower objectives are achieved, the corresponding upper objectives are achieved, and so on bottom-up till the top most objective (the Goal) is achieved.

Each layer of objectives is a set of Necessary Conditions for achieving the objective above. And here again, the Goal Tree provides the rational demonstration why employees can’t freely choose to work and improve whatever they want, even it seems an improvement from their point of view.

This disciplined approach may sound very constrained and limiting compared to other approaches asking staff for whatever improvement ideas. Maybe it sounds disappointingly controlled and restrictive but it makes no sense to burn limited and precious resources to “improve” whatever is proposed.

The lack of focus leads to many critics about lean lacking noticeable results compared to the time and money spent to improve. In this “open” approach stakeholders may have had their moment of glory when their proposed idea was validated, but their “improvements” didn’t impress nor last.

Conclusion

Neither bottom-up nor top-down initiated Lean journeys won’t lead to a Lean transformation success. The approach most likely to succeed is a smart mixture of top-down guidance, monitoring and assistance and aligned bottom-up contributions focusing on specific leverage points.

While top management provides the Goal to achieve and the framework within transforming the organization, the lower ranking staff make things happen working on meaningful and contributive topics.

Even if this approach looks constrained, it is more likely to demonstrate real improvement and proven, lasting benefits. Ultimately, this disciplined way should provide more satisfaction to all parties involved.

This ends the series of posts about the Fallacy of bottom-up Lean initiatives.

Comments welcome. If you liked it, share it!

Footnotes

(1) Theory of Constraints’ Thinking Processes would refer to these ways as “tactics”, while the Goal is a strategy
(2) An allusion about another one of my tales of the pyramid: the Swiss cheese

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The fallacy of bottom-up Lean initiatives – Part 2: top-down is no better

the-fallacy-of-bottom-up-lean-initiativesIn the first part of this series I shared my doubts and experience about bottom-up lean initiative to be successful and sustainable. In this post I switch position and explain why top-down Lean doesn’t always work either.

One common trap top management falls into is to believe that orders given will be carried out as expected and therefore managers save themselves the pain to go checking on shopfloor (1).

A variant is putting instructions in a procedure or on a work instruction sheet and believe it is all that is needed for things to happen.

The reasons for the expected outcome not to happen are numerous:

  • Orders may not be well understood
  • Instructions may be impossible to follow
  • People simply do not know what or how to do
  • People in charge resist the imposed change
  • People don’t know what the expectations are

For this last point, I came across several organizations where top management was aware about Lean principles and techniques and believed the lower levels were familiar alike.

They weren’t. But as none of the top managers went to check, the belief lingered, the performance remained disappointing and the blame was put on middle management.

When enthusiastic management promotes a Lean rollout without getting traction from shop floor, it’s like the top of the pyramid starting off while the base stays put, something I described in my tales of the pyramid series (1).

Another puzzling rollout I heard of was from a large corporate with a dozen of sites. The top management decided to go Lean and in order to get things rolling asked each of the sites to select a pilot perimeter, value stream map it and improve the selected processes.

I asked the central PMO manager if the sites had a common corporate Goal to align onto. No he answered, we’d like to start with local demonstrators to prove Value Stream Mapping is a powerful tool for improvement.

But what if the improved processes are unnecessary in regards to corporate strategy? How will you cope with frustration if the improvements done locally must be reset or discarded because of the corporate roadmap to come?

I got no answers to those questions and could not do any business with that organization. I never heard anything about operations’ improvement and years later I was told that most of the people from central Lean office moved elsewhere.

To me it seems that this attempt was nothing else than a large-scale muda hunting, without any central coordination than the tools and methods to be used, mandatory.

There are also many cases were CEOs or senior executives got hooked by a Lean conference, a Lean-praising speech or a good read. They appoint a champion or a consultant and assign her/him to deliver “the same”. Of course there is no deep understanding of Lean, only the desire to get the same alluring outcome.

What follows is most often a failure, even so it was strongly “supported” from top-most authority. One of my greatest Lean successes was with a medical devices manufacturer calling for help after the internal team totally messed up with their Lean attempt (2). Everyone was so upset with that experience that “lean” was a forbidden word. Alas not seldom a case.

What we did to straighten it out was… Lean in essence, just camouflaging it with other wording.

Imposing Lean from top-down has probably the same failure rate than bottom-up attempts, or even bigger when stakeholders do not understand what is asked and what for .

Top-down support is mandatory in a Lean transformation project. It is a necessary condition to success but by no means a guarantee for success!

In part 3 of this series we’ll see how to set better conditions to succeed with Lean.

Footnotes

(1) Top management is often cut off from the reality as I explain is the Tale of the pyramid – Head first. Top managers may also like to stay in their cosy ivory tower, another tale of the pyramid
(2) It takes more effort than read and learn from books to get good results with Lean tools and techniques. A deeper understanding of the underlying philosophy is learned the hard way, experimenting and reflecting on successes and errors

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Reflecting on Lean – Lean Confusion by Jill Jusko

Lean confusion is a 3-page article by Jill Jusko, posted on industryweek.com on Aug 13, 2010. Despite the time past, this article is still actual and may well continue to remain that way. This post is friendly recension of mine, having read it long after its publishing (2016 vs. 2010).

Jusko’s article starts on the love-hate debate about Lean, even if not expressed in those terms, between proponents crediting Lean (Manufacturing) for many measurable benefits while opponents deny them.

Why the diversity of opinions regarding lean? (…) answer is that people are confused.” both about what defines Lean as well as how to implement it.

In order to clarify what lean is, Jusko proposes Jim Womack’s definition “to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.” before quoting more of Womack’s in-depth explanation about Lean Thinking.

That’s the problem with Lean definitions. Either you tell them in a concise way, which may not suffice for the listener to correctly understand the intent nor grasp the full extend of it, or you’ll have to deliver a mini conference on it. None of these two options being certain to avoid misunderstandings or negative shortcuts.

In reality, the definition of lean frequently varies depending upon whom you speak with — whether it should or not.“ the article goes on. Yes, still true. This is depending both on who explains and who listens.

For instance, talking to a senior executive who has only very few time to listen to the explanation, an “elevator pitch” is required, even so “doing more with less”,  while perfectly true may end up with undesirable, mostly social, effects. On the other hand, going for a more detailed explanation may leave the impression Lean is difficult to explain – and understand – or the proponent is not mastering enough his subject to keep it short.

Even so Lean is strategic and should be considered so, many organization want the quick wins and go for the “tactical” implementation, which is more about the Lean tools than Lean Thinking and developing a Lean culture. “execution — or lack thereof — is a significant contributor to a lean implementation’s success” Jusko reports.

On page 3 of Jusko’s article, the “discussion” goes on in the section “what’s missing?” with two experts quotes, one about the necessary focus on machinery, the other about the importance of the human side. Both are right, but their explanations put that way may just… keep readers confused?

If I can put my two cents in, I would advise to go for the human side first. Changing anything on machinery with a deep knowledge about it can be long and deceptive, while properly using the available means – train people, organize work and flow better, avoid stoppages and breakdowns, etc. – yields higher return on investment.

The article ends with a kind of warning about asking “What’s Next Too Soon”, still true today as so many managers are convinced to “be lean” despite the facts and figures about their organization’s performance. Read “We are all Lean now. What’s next?” on this subject.

Few articles may keep their freshness after such a relatively long time after being published. It’s worth reading the original here:

http://www.industryweek.com/companies-amp-executives/lean-confusion


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The fallacy of bottom-up Lean initiatives – Part 1

the-fallacy-of-bottom-up-lean-initiatives

Yes, Lean initiatives can be started bottom-up, but I doubt they’ll get very far and last for long. Here is why.

Bottom-up Lean initiatives, e.i. improvements, are opportunities for improvement found by shopfloor people, line leaders or shop management. “Improvement” is most often understood in a broad meaning and bring up suggestions ranging from make worker routine job easier, fix small problems, make the workplace more enjoyable, achieve their work more efficiently and maybe add some value for end customers.

In order to awaken the staff to finding such opportunities, an initial training about Lean principles, the seven wastes (the infamous muda!) is often necessary, with “kaizen events” organized to hunt wastes and frame the initiatives.

Most often the improvement suggestions and bottom-up Lean initiatives remain in this format: a moderated, paced, focused and framed series of periodic workshops. The events are planned and not problem-driven, done when the workload allows it, which means when people have time and management agreement to distract some resources and time from regular operations.

Here lays a triple pitfall:

  1. People do not develop an autonomous Lean Thinking culture, but keep playing the assistants of some appointed Lean “genius”(1). If the latter is not available, the event cannot happen (so common when “black belts” are mandatory) and chances are that the knowledge gathered during these events will not remain with the team, but go away with the facilitator instead
  2. Problems are not tackled when they appear, failing to use the opportunity for learning from a real, actual and acute case. The muda hunters are set loose to “find something to improve” when the kaizen event is scheduled
  3. As the kaizen events are scheduled and too often subordinate to low workload, the “continuous improvement” is erratic in frequency, inconsistent with learning, problem solving and likely to be stopped for good at some point because “We have no time”.

The format and drawbacks of those events is not the sole reason for making me doubt about bottom-up Lean initiatives being viable. Those bottom-up ideas and initiatives assume that the suggestions will lead to real improvements.

Yet how many of them are nothing else than improving the workplace comfort, changing something to workers’ preferences or taste while assuming this will ultimately lead to (noticeable) performance improvement?

I’ve seen many such “improvements” agreed because management wanted to show willingness to back up bottom-up suggestions, foster workers’ commitment and not discourage them from the beginning. Other suggestions were agreed on the belief they would indeed improve “something”.

Yet most often the evidence of the improvement is not delivered, and no kind of measurement is set up to demonstrate the gain. I am not even expecting for an indisputable demonstration of the cause-and-effect relationship linking the “improvement” to a positive increase of performance, a trustworthy correlation would suffice.

Worse, the good idea in say manufacturing is to have parts unpacked and presented ready to assemble for assembly line workers. The unpacking and display of parts is pushed upstreams to the logistic team feeding the lines. As production lines productivity is measured and closely watched, their efficiency may well go up when the parts preparation is get rid of.

For the logistics team it’s another story, it must absorb additional workload without compensation and as usually its productivity is not measured, nobody sees the waste simply moved to it, perhaps at the expense of other useful activities.

Even worser: Value Stream Mapping is one of the most popular Lean tool and used as a waste revelator. So Value Stream Maps flourish and again muda hunters are set loose to eliminate waste. What the mappers overlook in the first place is the value of the stream they are mapping. And sometimes the process under scrutiny is a pure waste that is noticeable when seen from broader perspective, or higher altitude if you will. But this vantage point isn’t familiar to shopfloor staff.

Isn’t it ironic they put means and time to optimise possible waste? A Lean-deadly sin…

What happens so often next with bottom-up initiatives is top management asking where the beef is. After all, time and resources have been used to “improve”, so where is the return on this investment? And getting no convincing answer, the whole is finally put on hold and frustrated stakeholders conclude that Lean doesn’t work. (2)

Summing up

  • Scheduled and framed workshops are not the best way to develop a Lean culture, especially if it’s the only “continuous improvement” mode
  • Teams remain helpers to the appointed Lean / Six Sigma champion, barely develop a Lean culture
  • Bottom-up initiatives are too often based on unchallenged assumptions regarding the outcome, started on wishful thinking
  • Middle management often lacks the courage to discard suggestions that will obviously not lead to meaningful improvement
  • Improvements are too often local optimizations at the expense of the greater good
  • Shopfloor staff don’t know the bigger picture, hence improve what they see and know, reinforcing the previous point
  • Proof of the reality of the improvement is not systematically delivered
    At some point top management will put an end

Footnotes

(1) “Genius with a Thousand Helpers”, in Jim Collins’ “Good to Great”.
(2) I do not approve the way some companies require a calculation of a ROI prior to any change, because the way many costs are defined are questionable. Sometimes improvement are hard or even impossible to express in numbers: reduction of Lead Time, neatness, morale…That’s why I mentioned “correlations”.

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My blog’s third birthday

January 2014 – January 2017, my blog is now online for 3 years and counts 347 posts.

Thanks to all of you my audience is gently growing on this blog, as well as on my Youtube channel and on tweeter. All organic!

What is the most read here?

According to the stats, Constraint vs. bottleneck is the absolute winner, ahead of 3D Printing and Porter’s five forces ranking second.

Then comes a string of posts related to the Logical Thinking Process and the popular Goal Tree.

What’s on schedule for 2017?

Well I have a huge inventory of titles, topics, half-written posts on the various subjects I’d like to share: Lean Management, more about Logical Thinking Process and Theory of Constraints, my prospective survey about the future of manufacturing and much more.

I’ll try to post on a regular basis and bring some value-added content. You are welcome to give me feedback in the comments.

Hope to see you here!

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