A Tale of Two Sites

With apologies to Charles Dickens, but the opening line is just too good to resist…

The Best of Times

In this plant, the advance team is chaired and actively led by the most senior manager on the site. He is actively coaching, he is actively being coached. He is questioning his own learning, seeking council, and acting on it.

They are clear that, while there may be general guidelines, they must learn by trying and experimenting. They cannot simply deploy a roadmap because they can only see the next mile on a 1000 mile journey.

They see it as a method to shift their culture away from its “tell me what to do” legacy and toward one of an empowered workforce that takes initiative and works on the right things, the right way.

There is no doubt among the leadership team that this is the path forward.

They are starting to apply the language of the Improvement Kata informally in their meetings and discussions.

Overall, it seems a bit messy. But learning is like that.

The Other Site

The “implementation of Toyota Kata” is a directive from the corporate Continuous Improvement team.

The corporate team spends much of their energy developing and deploying templates, PowerPoint presentations, setting standards for the forms and the layout, lettering and colors on the improvement boards, and setting milestones.

They have published a step-by-step procedure for a site to implement Toyota Kata, based on their assumptions of what ought to work. None of them has actually led a change like this.

They are, in turn, working through the site continuous improvement team who is expected to execute to these standards.

The site leader receives weekly reports on progress. Training the managers and “implementing Toyota Kata” is the responsibility of one of the site’s continuous improvement staffers. The site leader questions him using the 5 Questions each week, and issues direction in response to the answers.

It is the continuous improvement practitioner who is responsible for motivating the members of the management team to challenge their own processes and develop their improvement boards. A significant number of them are questioning the need or purpose of this exercise.


Unfortunately I run into the second case far more often than I see the first. But the story is decades old. That is how we did Six Sigma, kaizen events, Theory of Constraints, Total Quality Management. In each case we have separated the deployment of a core change in the way we manage operations from the responsibility for actually managing.




This TED talk by Tim Harford actually sums up the difference pretty well:

But beyond what works, and what doesn’t, we also have to ask “Which approach is respectful of people?”

What are the underlying assumptions about the people at the gemba when “standards” are established thousands of miles away, published, and then audited into place?

Why do they feel they must tell people exactly what to do?

What do they feel is lacking on the site?  Competence? or Clarity?

One Reply to “A Tale of Two Sites”

  1. Hi Mark

    It goes along with who gets the credit for what is happening. Most western companies handout huge bonuses to their executives and head office people for the companies quarterly and yearly results. Those same organization try to justify those bonuses by top down micro management. The reality is that any success they have is likely more coincidence than actual effect, yet they claim that it is all because of them. Head office is like Mount Olympus the home of the Gods, and the CEO is Zeus himself. These types of companies focus on showing short-term results that stock market brokers love because it creates share sales activity (stock brokers get paid only when you buy or sell, never when you hold). These companies are driven by stock market demands, real consumer market demands are irrelevant, as is the long-term success or failure of the enterprise, in fact failure can be worth more to the stock market than success is worth.

    On the other hand you can also have companies that have solid ownership with a long-term goal of growth in mind. These companies have executives and head office people that leave the current operations to those in sales and production, as they are the two groups that can best effect the short-term, while they instead focus on taking the organization to where it needs to be in the future (5 to 10 years from now). When this happens head office will have explained and sold a vision to their plants and support offices. Yet they will happily allow those plants and support offices to implement that vision in the way that works best for them. In fact in these organizations head office people only provide help to a plant when they get asked, and prefer this because it allows them to keep their focus on the future.

    It my surprise people, but the second type of company usually has a fraction of the management and support people the other one does. The Senior Staff expect their people to be able to perform, because they respect them as hard working, and determined individuals just like they are. They hold their workers accountable and empower them to do their jobs, so they than require fewer people to control and push them to do their jobs. In fact most of their lower level supervisors and managers are not there to control the workers, but to assist workers when their are problems while also helping them find opportunities to do even better. Workers get their fair share of any rewards or recognition for short-term results, and are held accountable for what they can have a direct effect upon. Often in the other types of organizations workers get blamed for the performance problems that head office decisions caused, while head office gets given a bonus anyway.

    Which type of company would you prefer working for, and which is most likely to succeed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.