In a recent LinkedIn thread, What do we have to do to have Lean survive a leadership change?, I found most of the comments following the age old line that the reason for Lean failures can always be summed up in one word, leadership. I even left the following comment; “My first thought when I read this thread: Will Lean continue to blame leadership even when they are dead and gone?” Leadership is responsible, however, I think Lean has to step to the table and take some responsibility of its own. The comments made me reflect on 2 recent books published. I think they sum up the answer.
If Lean is to sustained through a leadership change, I believe that Lean Thinking needs to address the issues of leadership better. Many in the Lean world jump into the operational issues and address how to make a company better, faster, and cheaper. I am not arguing the merits of applying Lean and having an efficient operation but the fact is that is not why most leaders get hired.
When we had excess demand, such as in the 80s and 90s that was where the process methodologies became popularized. We strive to reach perfection and increase operational efficiencies. Sales and Marketing in the Lean world, often times, was an instrument to balance work flow and to collect data for voice of customer. In traditional Lean, we forecast and create an internal control point holding sales and marketing accountable to a forecast.
We now live in a world of excess supply and Leaders get hired to grow revenue. For the past 20 years, Lean has been sold from a perspective that faster, better, cheaper wins in the marketplace. It puts a high degree of value product/goods dominant logic (GD-Logic) thinking. Lean only values what the customer will buy, a transactional experience (GD-Logic). It has flourished as a waste reduction method and viewing revenue growth through operations.
Art Bryrne, last fall wrote an outstanding book, The Lean Turnaround: How Business Leaders Use Lean Principles to Create Value and Transform Their Company and also appeared on the Business901 podcast, Lean as a Business Model. His book is said to be the c-level guide to succeeding with Lean. His view of about providing more value than your competitor and discusses building and operating a company chiefly from an operational perspective.
This is traditional Lean thinking that leads us to focus our efforts of continuous improvement internally versus externally. We are constantly trying to improve internal processes making them more and more efficient. What I believe the comments are missing is that there has been a significant shift in the marketplace and at the moment the customer is in control. Supply exceeds demands. However, Lean seems to focus on the wrong side of the fulcrum, the internal processes.
What to Do? Stealing a phrase from co-authors, A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin, we must Play to Win (Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works), tomorrows blog post.