Alignment of People, Process and Purpose

A few years ago during a visit to the gemba of high volume manufacturing client, I found a good case study in a disjointed Lean implementation. There was a lack of alignment between how management was leading the Lean effort (providing purpose), how the workforce was being engaged (developing people) and defining and building a superior operational model (process excellence). There was a lack of alignment of people, process and purpose.
Many of the tools and elements of Lean manufacturing had been smartly copied out of Japanese books and implemented on the shop floor. They had very good 5S, a TPM program, QC Circles, a suggestions system, but this company had reached a point where even their successful improvement efforts finding their wheels in a ditch.
The members of the QC Circles showed me their positive results. However due to a lack of “before” metrics linked to and supporting a Lean process, the leadership became reluctant to support it. “Go back to making parts” was what the kaizen team members received. They had started QC Circles because they had heard it was the “right thing to do” and initial results seemed to support this. Yet the lack of connection to process (Lean operational model) was threatening continued support.
They have very good 5S discipline at this factory and visual management tools were everywhere. On a hunch I poked my head into their compressor room located in an obscure corner of one of their buildings. Sure enough, even out of sight the floors were painted, swept and clean, ready for an audit by a visiting Lean manufacturing consultant at any time. Yet when asked why they did 5S, or why it was important to make things visuals, the answers were “to keep it clean” and “to make it visually appealing”. They may have had a clear vision of what a Lean factory looks like, but they did not understand the purpose behind these tools and methods such as 5S.
They have a sustained TPM program with targets for improving MTTR and MTBF. Most of the efforts were focused on the first two pillars and not yet on improving OEE. They were debating whether to outsource their maintenance work and have the maintenance company take over their TPM, which struck me as missing the whole purpose of TPM, in my humble opinion.
On the month previous to my visit they had just hit a new record for throughput for the month and they were very proud of this. I have rarely seen a batch and queue system executed so well. There was a lot of muda and muri, though the waste was neatly isolated and the overburden carefully managed. This is a testament to the strength of their leadership and the commitment of the workforce to the quality of work they do. However, they are still pursuing an inferior operational model, and their improvement efforts were focused on point cost, rather than overall cost.
Looking at their factory in full-swing, it was clear that they everyone was making a heroic effort to achieve these things. I could not call them a Lean manufacturer yet by any stretch of the imagination. One reasons is because of a flawed operational model. They have disconnected processes and flow is in small batches. This is done in order to optimize the utilization of each process. This creates a lot of in process inventory and occupies a lot of space. Their Lean efforts are focused on getting the most out of their current operational model (process), rather than aiming their Lean efforts at improving towards an ideal (purpose) and engaging the creativity of their people to this end.
In Lean, as in any sort of transformation effort, it is important to align people, process and purpose. Taking the example of the stop-and-go kaizen activities at this company, the leadership needs to do a much better job of connecting the kaizen activity to purpose. Basically this purpose could be twofold: cost reduction and developing problem solving skills of people. Then the process of doing kaizen itself must be streamlined and rationalized so that it is not cumbersome. If the process of doing kaizen is a pain, or it is not fun, this takes people out of alignment with the purpose. I wish them all success, but it will probably take a sharp dose of failure for this company to reexamine its operational model and realign to a new purpose.