A major undertaking is occurring in my organization to enable lean principles to be leveraged by everyone.  This week we broke down vertical walls of authoritative control, or should I accurately say illusion of control.  We have only been in business for eight years, and through the tenure a deep local optima has become prevalent.

The way I have learned through gemba and also have been told is there are certain groups of individuals that do certain portions (the majority) of our work.  Nobody else has challenged this practice nor questioned the effectiveness of such vertical process.  It “works” but I know it doesn’t work the most optimal way, which is including everyone that can contribute to the value creation and products we deliver.  But as we all learn through our lean journey is not everyone understands that we need to look at value from our customer perspective.  In doing this we have no choice but to walk the gemba and actually see what we are doing, how we are doing it and how can we do it better.  Human nature is to continue doing what is comfortable, what we know how to do and the path of least resistance.  This is contrary to lean development, as lean managers we need to be conducting experiments and continually refining them to find perfection.  Plan, do, check, act; repeat.

My role that I feel I officially assumed this week is operations manager.  Like many our characters we read in lean books I have inherited an organization that is forced to do better.  In our readings nobody tells someone how to do better, just get it done or else you’ll go out of business.  My circumstance is a little different, nobody told me anything because we don’t make money but we still deliver products.  And nobody told me to do better because the way it has always been is the way it will always be.  Let me highlight some clues that were revealed that blatantly told me to improve the way we perform our value creation.

Nobody could clearly show me in any form of writing how we perform our work.  In the military we have something called Standard Operating Procedures or SOP for short.  In my organization we have an SOP but it doesn’t mention anything about our largest portion of what we do for our customer.  So what is in the SOP, clearly tons of muda.

No two people could tell me what each other do to create value.  If I asked Jim what Travis did he could vaguely tell me but not clearly and vice versa.  This was in the group of individuals that were performing the majority of our work.  When I sought the same information from the other groups they were even blinder by the lack of knowledge about how people perform their functions.

I couldn’t get a clear answer from anyone about anything.  Too often I would get an answer to my interrogation level “why” questions with an answer similar to this, “we have that but it really isn’t what you think.”  Or, “we do it this way but that isn’t truly the way it should be.”

Clearly I was on a gemba reminiscent of the wall of mirrors we apprehensively navigated as children because we were afraid what we were looking at wasn’t real and we would get lost.  Well I was getting completely lost in my house of mirrors because nothing was real and I kept bumping into the mirror.

Enter Demolition

My gemba has begun and will continue until after I depart the organization in the years to come, as all us military are forced to do.  But I have learned enough to know now is the time, I need to take a wrecking ball attached to my crane and smash the walls down.  Today I arrived at work in my crane.  In the previous weeks I’ve eluded to lean principles with my white board / dry erase marker board with cue words for interested and curious people to research.  I’ve talked to some people on the side to explain what is going through my mind and what I am studying.  Today was the time to pull the curtain back and that is exactly what I did.  I enforced a new way of doing business by merging the two groups of value creating personnel together.  I told the group that does the majority of our work (group A) that they will have the other group (group B) shadowing them starting today to learn exactly what they do.  I told group B that they will absorb and take copious notes on what group A does so they too will soon be able to create the same value.  Group B is essentially mapping the value stream for our product delivery.

Went off without a hitch right, completely wrong.  Everyone was taken aback and some were vocal in their displeasure and rock solid protest.  However, in my position I have the authority and ability to influence change regardless of popularity or agreement.  This is what leadership comes down to, making the best decision you feel will create the best result.  I know lean principles, team building and cohesion, horizontal standardization and continual value stream mapping and muda removal will give our customers the world class service they seek and deserve.

Initial constraint of vertical silos are officially removed.

Author: TheLeanArmy

I am a student of Lean, on the journey and most challenging opportunity to introduce and implement Lean principles and thinking in my portion of the United States Army. * Completely unofficial and all information is my sole opinion, not endorsed by the government and for personal use.

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