Why we should not only be intimately familiar with the process itself, but also with the conditions for and limits of its use.
As has often been asserted, it is a fact that we find ourselves in an environment of regular operational changes. I don’t know about you, but I regularly meet people who speak with some degree of resignation about the “next big thing” to come along? They’ve seen it all and wonder just what is new about the latest initiative. In addition – and this is particularly stressful – the previous concept hasn’t even been given a chance to spread throughout the entire company. The results are still lacking in many areas, and there is an impression that the same goals are simply being pursued under a different name and that one is really “fumbling around in the dark”. The new initiative is simply a management whim. It is done because the competitors have recently begun to do it. One sometimes wishes that these “fads” would just go away. It’s all been said – just perhaps not yet by everyone.
The science historian and sociologist Stefan Kühl makes a similar argument. He even supports the hypothesis that there have been no major new ideas regarding the structuring of post-bureaucratic organizations since the 1930s. It has all been done before and is simply being reinvented time and again under different names. Does that situation sound familiar?
There are many reasons to use a new method. These range from self-marketing to gaining knowledge, and it is sometimes simply fun to try something new, providing the risks are negligible. But this fun of implementing new ideas shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of the issues of criteria and the reasons for the method and its suitability for achieving the goal. Methodology tells us when and why to apply a method. And precisely this is often overlooked. If the Toyota production system has not been adequately effective, this is often due to the fact that its inherent methodology has been overlooked. When changing technical processes in particular, the use of a method is not just strictly for one purpose, but also a part of a comprehensive structure of methods. This means that certain conditions are critical for the utilization of a method. In addition, the effect of methods is fundamentally limited.
every method intended to simplify the value stream needs certain prerequisites to be effective.Frank Krause
senior partner, staufen.ag
What role does this principle play in the transformation to a lean company? I remember the first years of the “Lean Movement”. In the mid-90s, I returned from my study trip in Japan, enthusiastic about Kanban, and immediately began sticking colorful cards on every available container. A bit later, I recognized that the material supply management didn’t work as we had hoped. We studied the rules for the introduction of Kanban and gradually came to the realization that we perhaps should first have stabilized the processes, maybe even increased the degree of interconnectedness – perhaps some of the Kanban loops could have been avoided. Today – after 30 years of the lean movement – such anecdotes elicit no more than a smile, because we know: every method intended to simplify the value stream needs certain prerequisites to be effective. If these prerequisites do not exist or – worse yet – if they are purposely not created, there will be no sustained success. “Trivial!” you might think. “Not entirely,” I would argue and remind you of the four characteristics of a lean system, which are created by mutually dependent methods and must be applied in a certain sequence.
For example, it is nonsensical to vehemently ignore the requirement of interconnectedness and then later be surprised by the poor synchronization qualities and fluctuating processing times. Process stability is an essential condition for interconnectedness, just as interconnectedness is an essential condition for synchronization.
Do you recognize the message? Companies often have just one immediate goal in mind with regard to an application, but that is short-sighted. Because they then overlook the fact that this has consequences for the course of the project. In the next step of the project, the use of a subsequent method will presumably be necessary – we could also call this a “consecutive method”. This must be taken into consideration from the beginning. Otherwise, we jeopardize the success of the project and cast doubt on the integrity of the entire initiative. And all of this because we were unwilling to look at the next “hurdle”.
Ideally, a lean value stream requires the interconnection of all processes. Here, you should do everything possible to ensure that interconnectedness is possible, because it stabilizes implementation pressure in the direction of problem solving and increases dependability.
Moments such as this also show the extent to which the “turning of the pyramid” has been successful. This metaphor stands for the cross-functional interaction of all functions. Each is evaluated on the basis of what they can contribute to the simplification of the value stream. Only when the smallest possible distance between all processes has been achieved is it sensible to think about synchronization. No one would attempt to synchronize processes that are located 10 meters apart from one another. So, let us remember: Every method requires conditions (prerequisites) to be effective. Method structures such as the Toyota production system are only effective when the prerequisites are met, meaning the methodology is observed by all employees of the company. It is just as important for the success of the project as expertise with regard to individual methods.
Podcast Episode with Frank Krause
Listen to Frank Krause, partner at Staufen AG, in his podcast series ‘Denkanstoß’ [„Food for thought”] as he blazes a path through the jungle of topics that he encounters in his everyday life as a consultant, and get inspired to deepen your understanding of the questions he’s asking. He invites you to consider current terms, topics, and ideas. Metaphorically speaking, recognize the forest and its trees; that’s the goal of this podcast series.
Our podcast is mainly available in German. For each episode we have a written blog article in German and English available.