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Nick Ruhmann
March 03, 2017

Lean Assessment? We Don't Need No Stink'​in Lean Assessment...

Screenshot 2017-03-03 11.05.30.png

Across the feeds of LinkedIn, to the tool chests of every self proclaimed lean or operational consultant out there stands ready the infamous "assessment".

Let us come in they say...we'll tell you how "mature" your organization is...then create a specific action plan for you...

Now I say, "We Don't Need No Stink'in Lean Assessment"...



That's right Jerry.

[The minion, I believe his name is Jerry...just saying]

NO Assessment Needed....well at least nothing that's "lean" or "six sigma" oriented...or "TLS" or "TOC" or any other alphabet soup title you want to slap on some overdone checklist.



But, but, but, but, how, how can you say such a thing?

Because I'm tired of:

  1. Business leaders that think "lean" is something they assign, delegate, or "do" (All they need is a checklist right?)
  2. Making the assessment of a business harder than it needs to be.

Item number 1: Allowing business leaders to think "lean" is something they assign, delegate, or "do"

This first topic has far reaching consequences...

Lean isn't something that you "add on" or "decide to apply" when the mood strikes you, or when you are given a new cost reduction goal. You either practice lean, or you don't, but we don't practice lean....and say we "we did the lean stuff". We run a business.

When someone goes to school to get their MBA, what they learn is considered a mastery level of BUSINESS administration. (how effectively that occurs is a subject for another day) When we hire a COO, we consider them to be the leader of OPERATIONS. So there's the Business, and there's Operations, and everything we do as part of the mastery of running the business / operations.

When we hire another leader, and call them the director of lean, or director of "OpEx" (yep, point the finger right at me too), or the VP of Business Transformation - we have to be VERY careful that what we aren't doing is making "lean" (or OpEx) something other than a different method of running the business. Lean (or whatever you want to call it) has to be the very principles by which you run that business.

Lean manufacturing, lean thinking, lean enterprise, lean IT, OpEx, Process Excellence, LSS, etc etc etc. If it's an "add-on", just forget it. Stop pretending. Stop creating the false hope that you might decide to lead differently.

But...if instead you really want to try a different way (different from the way taught and practiced by the majority of MBA graduates out there)

You need to embrace that lean IS your Business method, your way of thinking, and not something that needs assessed separately. If you do, then why do you need a "lean" assessment? If lean = "method of running a business", then just assess your business the same way you would any other day.

Item Number 2: Making the assessment of a business harder than it needs to be.

How do you assess your company's performance? Profit Sharing? Profit? Cash Flow? Customer Satisfaction? Turnover? These don't change when you move from command and control, zero sum methods to lean. (though lean certainly views some things differently from standard cost accounting, and doesn't make shareholders supreme).

"But Nick, we still need to know where a company is on it's lean journey".

Really? You need a full blown assessment to do that? You can't just...take a walk?

I'm going to steal a page from a past colleague of mine that once had a short document he'd give to us before doing site visits titled "Is it Lean?". These few questions were based on the idea that you are visiting a company or location...

  1. Was the map good? Ok this used to be far more important before Google Maps, but this still is an issue with larger facilities. Ever tried to visit a Ford or GM plant? Goodness gracious, it's a little daunting just figuring out where to go after "you have arrived at your location".
  2. Was the car park easy to find? So again per Question 1, what is this telling you when it's not?
  3. Was the entrance easy to find? Noticing a trend here...
  4. Which cars are parked closest to the door? The Visitors? or the Executives? This one tells me a lot. How does the leadership view themselves? Are they "special" and more deserving of a private parking space (close to the door no less) than the "manual labor". Special case....are the executives parking spots closer than any of the handicapped spots? Wow...if so, you might want to re-think that. If this is you...think about what message you're sending and what psychological undertones this suggests about you and your leadership team. How likely is it that you're truly the servant leaders that lean needs in order to work? In my experience...not very likely. Often one or more of the leaders hate the private spots...but are too afraid to buck the long standing history of them. My advice? Give yours up. Eventually the other leadership will follow suite, out of guilt if nothing else. If they won't, it will expose the leaders that have a future vs. those that don't.
  5. What does the outside of the site look like? This one I take with a grain of salt. I've seen some places that look like money was exuding out of the place with the fancy landscaping, fact when that's mixed with other problematic signs, it tells me more about the ego of the leadership than anything else. (especially if the hourly employees are on some strict perf mgmt plan, aren't paid well, or aren't receiving a healthy profit share, etc. I may be much more impressed by a 50 year old building with obvious issues that the owners and employees have enough pride in to keep the grass mowed, not to litter the entrance with cigarette butts, and have good visual management...
  6. Is there someone there to greet you? Are they ready at the agreed time? Do you respect others time? Then don't set an appointment and leave that person waiting in a lobby for 30 min. I get it, things happen. But when they do, an organization that values each other will have put in place a process or an expectation that you send a delegate when you can't make it, or at least send notice that you're going to be late. Anything less is rude.

AND...last but not least, a lean assessment boiled down to one little question:

Are the workers toilets as nice and as clean as the Executives?? I'll let you draw your own conclusions there as to how to judge this one.


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