How do you Value Learning?

My original gateway to Lean came from the systems thinking perspective developed by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization and Kaplan and Norton’s, The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action. In between Lean and Systems Thinking, I spent some time with Six Sigma because Jack Welch and GE were the model company and Jack Welch was the model leader at the time. Eventually, a found my way to the Theory of Constraints and took a deep dive into that for several years. It was not until I had experience in those three areas before Lean even entered the picture.

When I finally happened upon Lean it actually was from a knowledge perspective, even though I was a manufacturer. I developed a concept from the outside in at the very beginning about Lean. It was not an internal process to rid itself of waste. I actually looked at ridding waste through the eyes of Theory of Constraints, that bottleneck perspective. Lean was about pull, flow, value and even waste from a customer perspective.

It helped that I manufactured product on a custom order basis. I never knew what an internal control point was until I started reading Lean Supply Chain books. I have struggle finding like-minded Lean people; see my blog post, The Value Problem with Lean in Sales and Marketing.

As I have expanded deeper into Lean Sales and Marketing, it has become obvious to me that pull comes from the learning with a customer. Building iterative process, learning PDCA cycles into sales and marketing is difficult. To get people to think that way is really difficult because the whole concept of sales and marketing is push. The difficulty is, how are you are going to provide growth through iterative learning? Learning

I appreciated what Dan McDonnell, next week’s podcast guest and co-author of a new book, Unleashing Unleashing the Power of 3P: The Key to Breakthrough Improvement, says in this excerpt from the podcast. To make this clear, Dan was not discussing his present company, who are firm believers in the Lean 3p Process. He was discussing industry as a whole.

One day, maybe, someone in our communities will find that more and more senior leaders actually value this concept of learning and development of people, and get willing to invest more in it.

Absolutely, and then how do you value learning, right? How do you value, in terms of financially, the building of capability within your people? There really isn’t any financial model for valuing knowledge apart from leaders who get it and realize that, that’s how I’m going to get great. That’s why training and all this stuff just tends to get cut the minute, there’s a downturn. Guys hack and slash that, and it’s probably one of the last things they should do.

That’s the ultimate paradigm, right? That’s we have no way of valuing knowledge in our companies, and so our classic, from the CFO down, it’s about cost, and it’s about revenue, and if something doesn’t fit into any one of those buckets then it tends to get pushed aside. No manager would ever sit there to you and suggest that learning isn’t a positive thing that they want to go drive. When the rubber hits the road . . .

Shifting to a more Lean 3P focus, he went on to say:

What amazes me is that, I’ve had so many coaches over the years that have suggested that “Hey, this is 3P. Go do this and all that,” and we absolutely did it. As I mentioned, in many cases, we actually got some really cool results from it, but what I came to realize is we were practicing pieces of the total process, without understanding the total process. When the light-bulb clicks for you, you start realizing how this whole thing fits together. From there, I can’t imagine somebody who understands 3P would ever think about doing change any differently.

One final thought, Joe. One of the real struggles, I think, getting 3P really kicked off, as I mentioned, in order to do this right, you’ve got to resource and spend a little bit more money early on in the program than what managers typically would do. So, they’ve got their standard process, if it’s standard, or at least it’s quasi-standard of how if they start a new plant up, or move a product, or do a new-product development. here’s how they do the work.

So, when you come in with 3P, you say, “Look, you know, we need to do this. And we’ve got to start it, you know, a year ahead. And we need eight people dedicated. We need some funding to go do this,” and they just about fall off their chair. But, the reality, as I said, is that this is not an expense, it’s a savings. You mentioned cycle, absolutely, you’re going to compress cycles.

This new process of building learning cycles versus sales and marketing funnels seems very strange to the typical company. However, when you view how much of the decision process is already completed in most organization before you engage, you become acutely aware of how important this exploration is. A brief description is contained The Lean Marketing House Infograph.

About Dan: Dan McDonnell began his career at a small high-tech firm in Canada, where he initially practiced Lean through a myriad of manufacturing assignments to the level of VP Operations. He spent 14 years with General Electric Company, where he served as a Plant Manager, and eventually as a Manufacturing GM, for 11 different factories over that period. He served for three years as the Manager of the Lean Initiative for GE Transportation where his deep experience with 3P really began. Dan is currently the Vice President of Operational Excellence for Ingersoll Rand.

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