Companies don’t really distinguish themselves as far as it concerns the objectives for their operations. Providing quality, on time, in a speedy way, against low cost, and on a safe, healthy, pleasant and environment-friendly way is something everyone aspires. An operational competitive advantage, however, will only emerge when the way in which the organization executes her processes, is smarter and better than the way in which her competitors does. But nowadays, every self-respecting company seemingly is also pursuing “Lean”. Have we finished competing through our operations? A post about “what”, “how” and “how well”.
What – The Tympan of The Lean Temple
Very often, when asking after a company’s strategy, I get answers that are in fact more indicative of their ambitions or their specific objectives than their strategy. “We want to be number one in chosen market segments”, “we want to realize double-digit sales growth”, “we want to bring our delivery reliability up to world-class levels” are examples of these “strategies”. Operational “strategies” typically concern safety, quality, timeliness, speed (order-to-delivery and throughput time), productivity, costs, inventories, and for instance absenteeism.
In my experience, companies do not really distinguish themselves in this regard. In fact, companies all aspire improvements in these areas, although there certainly are differences in the aggressiveness of the objectives and exact elaboration of the measures.
In the typical Lean “temple”, often used as a metaphor to describe Lean concepts, these aspects belong to the tympan of the temple (the triangular roof of the temple): the “what”. Looking at the foregoing, fleshing out the details for the tympan often doesn’t represent a big issue for most companies.
How – The Pillars and Foundation of the Lean Temple
A more challenging task in making the Lean temple more concrete for the own organization presents itself when we descend to the temple’s pillars and foundation. Where companies can make a difference in their operations, is the way in which they will attempt to actually realize their objectives that are on the tympan. In fact, this is the essence of the question after a company’s “strategy” what is a question after the “how”. Or in analogy to Deming’s PDSA, the question after the “plan”. In Lean’s policy deployment or Hoshin Kanri approach, the tympan and pillars in fact come together in the so-called policy matrix – a central element in combining the “what” and “how”.
In specifying the “how”, companies need to specify the principles that will guide the way in which the company will work, and the actual methods that will be deployed and that are believed to contribute to achieving the company’s objectives. More and more organizations hereby choose to deploy (elements of) the Lean philosophy. Many Lean themes, concepts or “tools” if you like, typically find a place in the pillars or the foundation of the temple as these represent the “how”.
But when more and more organizations are embracing Lean, can there still be an operational advantage by competing on the “how”? This question leads us to the third topic of our post: the “how well”.
How Well – The Depth of the Lean Temple
Competitive advantage originating from a company’s operations will increasingly come from “how well” companies are able to concretely translate, execute and sustain the “how”. This involves the level of a company’s understanding of the Lean principles, the quality with which companies are able to actually translate these into concrete work methods and day-to-day behaviors from front-line employees to its top managers, and the quality of its continual improvement process.
We often represent the Lean temple as a two-dimensional structure. But maybe we need to add a third dimension to this representation: next to the “what” and “how”, also the “how well”.
Again referring to Lean’s policy deployment or Hoshin Kanri approach, the “how well” very much relates to keeping the company on its intended course by using a disciplined follow-up process – based upon Deming’s PDSA-circle – of both results and deployment quality.
Time to not only pay attention to the “what” and “how”, but also to the “how well” in the new year!