No, It Doesn’t Take 20 Years to Learn Lean

Lean Performance Pyramid: Part 7

(Read Part 6 Here)

In the movie The Waterboy, Coach Klein (played by Henry Winkler) opposes Coach Red Beaulieu, who in an earlier phase of their lives, stole his mysterious “Green Book” of football plays. It is in the final championship game that Coach Klein comes to realize that he doesn’t need the green book anymore to beat Coach Red, even though Red has won season after season with it. He doesn’t need the book because it only contains the results of his own creative solutions. He realizes that he still has the engine that produced those creative solutions – his knowledge-laden brain.

Toyota’s Green Play Book

Many Lean experts still believe that Toyota has a “Green Book” that is so mysterious, that it takes 20+ years to learn. Of course it’s not really a green book at all, and the engine Toyota used to produce their excellent results isn’t really that mysterious. To be sure, it does not take 20 years to learn and implement lean principles, because skilled modelers finally modeled Lean Management and we know how to implement that model. Yes, it’s true that it has taken the Western business world 20+ years to figure out the model, but that’s because it’s a paradigm shift and it had not been modeled correctly until recently. So we, the Lean experts, imitated everything we got our hands on (however wrongly), continuing to learn and operate, pushing through based on the pure logic of Lean.

And it really is just purely logical. Only do value adding things as fast as possible, matching the highest level of quality you promised, at the lowest cost? Pretty much the goal of modern management since its birth. But those are results, which begged the question of how Toyota was doing it. Almost everything taught in the majority of those previous 20 years of “still learning” amounted to the tools they were using. We emulated Lean Management by employing the tools that Toyota either found or created, on its way to achieving delivery, quality and cost targets.

$50,000 to Turn a Single Screw?

Which conjures up the story of the specialist called into a company to fix critical equipment, who ends up “only turning a screw” and charging $50,000 for his work. When asked indignantly how he dare charge such an exorbitant fee for nothing more than turning a screw, he replies, it’s $100 to drive to your company and turn the screw, and $49,900 for “knowing which screw to turn.”

We were using screw drivers to turn screws, without knowing which ones to turn. Really sophisticated screw drivers, mind you: reduced setup techniques, visual tools to mediate flow and organization, cellular layouts, etc.; but screwdrivers nonetheless. Luckily that’s all changed now. We have the technology and it’s tried and validated – now it’s just a matter of doing the right things in the right way.

That’s not to say we can match Toyota’s results anytime soon, but we don’t need to. They’ve been solving their problems in the past 30+ years with extremely creative solutions, which are specific to them. Some of them can be emulated through benchmarking, but that doesn’t really touch the heart of the matter. It doesn’t address the engine that is behind their creative solutions.

The Engine of Lean

And what is that engine? What is the engine that’s allowed Toyota to produce creative solutions on its way to world class delivery, quality, and costs? You probably guessed that it’s team based problem solving, and if you did, you’re right. Know who else believes this engine works to produce world class results? Google does. Google relies on teams to produce its world class results, which is exactly the message behind the movie The Internship. Google knows that world class teams beat teams of world class individuals (like the one the arrogantly intelligent Graham Hawtrey puts together for himself to win).

You Have to Watch This!

As an aside, if you want to see the principles of the team dynamic “Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing” in action, The Internship exemplifies each one of those phases in a very delineated fashion. Most importantly, you get to see the how the final phase, Performing, manifests itself (almost instantly after they have completed their Norming in the bar. While most teamwork is given lip-service in Western organizations, it is “performing teams” tasked to solve problems, that have produced the amazing results we’ve witnessed in the massive shift that represents the last 45 years of the automobile industry.

The good news is that team oriented problem solving is readily achievable, as are systems thinking, process focus and visual discipline. With these fundamental building blocks of Lean Management in place, you can make an engine that produces creative solutions and hits targets, in any organization, very fast.

And what targets are those teams working towards in Lean Management? The targets of consistently producing high quality, fast delivery, and low cost for customers, wrapped in a safe working environment. Which is the next building block of the pyramid we’ll cover in detail in upcoming articles. Sign up for those below.

We Have a Course That Teaches All of This in Detail
These foundational blocks and entire system to get there, is part of our online course Instant Lean Leadership, and you can learn more about it by clicking here.

(Read Part 8 Here)

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