The Tough Decision: What Not To Do

Today’s Dilbert strip highlights a situation that is only funny because it happens so often:

The idea that a company can focus on 25 key areas, or 125 key performance indicators (yes, I said 125 because I have seen it myself) is obviously ludicrous.

Of course a manager has a legitimate concern to ensure people don’t take their eyes off things that are important to focus on something else.

But the leader’s role here is to ensure there are processes and systems in place that anchor the routine things. Further, those processes and systems need to be designed to alert the appropriate people when something goes out of control, or past a boundary.

Without having any routines the manager has no choice but to make everything something to focus on.

Because there is no standard process, everything must be managed as an exception.

This stresses the organization because in reality they can only micro-manage a few things at a time. It is left up to the people to decide what isn’t going to get done. The bosses response at that point is going to be negative no matter what they accomplish. “Respect for people” does not play here.

Leader’s toughest job is deciding what we are not going to work on right now. It isn’t as tough as it seems because if a focus or challenge is selected well, it actually organizes the problem solving effort to pull just about everything else in behind it.

Let’s take an example from a previous post: On time delivery.

If we say “We are going to emphasize “on time delivery” as a theme or challenge this year, what kind of things might people end up working on?

  • Having every operation start on time.
  • Sources of delay.
  • Quality issues (which cause delays)
  • Safety issues (also cause delays)
  • Visual controls and good response to problems (to get on top of problems quickly)
  • Equipment reliability.
  • Setting a good operational takt time.

The list goes on. But by having a decent challenge, the local area can focus on the things that are impacting their ability to deliver on time. It isn’t necessary to make a laundry list of everything that could cause a delay and measure it from the top of the organization. If you do, everyone’s energy is dissipated working on problems that they don’t necessarily have.

Of course this is all based on having a leadership process that gets down to the work area, grasps what people are actually working on, and coaches them through the process of aligning their efforts and solving the right problems in the right way.

Hmmmm… so does that mean that the #1 thing to focus on if you want consistent on-time delivery might be leadership development?

I guess I need to get back to the Liker and Convis book.

3 Replies to “The Tough Decision: What Not To Do”

  1. I think this is the real genius of Ohno’s focus on 1-to-1 flow. What he did by making everything about flow was find the one thing that can drive everything else. Toyota discovered that if everyone focused on flowing product toward the customer, it covered almost every other objective. Cost, efficiency, capacity, availability, OEE, etc…They all fall into place if flow and quality is good.

    That’s the real genius of the system. When they add the other pillar of jidoka, they basically have every necessary “focus area” needed to be successful.

    Toyota isn’t special in looking at these things. It’s not exactly rocket science that inventory is bad and quality is good. No one would disagree with that statement. It’s that Toyota focuses on these two things exclusively. When most companies start learning about lean, they ADD these type of objectives to the ones they already have. They miss the point.

  2. Unfortunately the private sector is picking up double speak and complexity from government. Provide a quality product on time at a reasonable price and profit is just too simplistic. We must have 25 goals that feed 50 tactics that create 150 actions that must be discussed with each employee individually. This to ensure you provide a quality product on time at a reasonable price and profit. This is progress?

  3. It’s one thing having all of these goals, but I suspect that for most people in the organisation they are goals they neither buy into or care much about because they haven’t been party to the top down strategy sessions that went into the creation of the goals in the first place.

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