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What Jim doesn’t get

Jim Womack was one of the authors of The Machine that Changed the World. It was an important book, describing, amongst other things, how Taiichi Ohno discovered some counter-intuitive truths when creating the Toyota Production System. Regular readers will know that their second book (‘Lean Thinking’) made, in my view, a big mistake, codifying method. It was a stimulus to the lean tools movement. I often contrast change by tools and projects to the way in which Ohno taught; he would have people study their system. The point is you can either start by working out what your problems are, or you can start by applying a tool to problems you think you have. My argument has been that the problems managers think they have are not the ones they really have and that only becomes apparent when they study the ‘what and why’ of performance as a system.

Regular readers will recall Jim rationalising the manifest madness of the lean tools movement as being the ‘tool age’ of lean; he went on to say the next age would be the management age. Subsequently he lamented the fact that tools developed for the management age (like A3 planning) didn’t work; he even acknowledged it was because they were treated as tools.

The point of going over this history is to give context to Jim’s recent newsletter, passed to me by many who were incredulous. In it Jim said he had been spending time walking through processes in service organisations, and he found himself asking ‘who designed this wasteful, incapable, unavailable, inadequate, inflexible, uneven, and disconnected value stream in the first place?’ His answer: ‘No One.’

I am incredulous too. Jim can’t see the thing he needs to see. Our service organisations are designed and managed according to a set of norms and assumptions; all centred on a machine view of the worker. Activity management is at the core of these beliefs, sitting hand-in-glove with managements’ belief in economies of scale.

It is management thinking that needs to change to realise performance improvements comparable to Ohno’s achievements. And the best way to change thinking? Get managers out studying the work as a system, just as Ohno did. People who were taught by Ohno all tell me that Ohno would never explain. I know why, if you explain people don’t ‘get it’; when they study they learn to see counter-intuitive truths.

Jim thinks the solution is to appoint a value-stream architect. Like some glorified ‘process owner’, these architects will fail for the same reasons: you can’t change a system by persuasion, especially when those you want to persuade are focussed on making measures that are part of the problem.

Jim doesn’t get it.

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Re-thinking lean service

To expand on the thoughts above and to show how lean arrived in service organisations sharing wrong-headed assumptions with the fad for industrialisation (call centres, back-offices etc) I wrote a paper (‘Re-thinking lean service’) with others. You can download it at: https://www.vanguard-method.com/resource.php?res=450/resource.php?res=

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Bad management on steroids

Thanks to those readers who alerted me to this complete nonsense. A PWC consultant offered his views on what public-sector managers should do to tackle
budget cuts.

1. Make clear you are in charge. The objective is to bring stability where there was chaos.
2. Appoint a corporate director to lead the programme. But not the head of finance – they’ll be needed for checks and balances.
3. Get a handle on the size and timing of the challenge and how it will arise.
4. Establish an immediate communication plan articulating the tough decisions that will need to be made.
5. Review and prioritise all current programmes. Distinguish between ‘essential’ and ‘nice-to-have’.
6. Get control of the cash. Review approval levels and delegated authorities. Challenge discretionary expenditure. Freeze recruitment. Defer refurbishment.
7. Get members, staff representatives and suppliers on board.
8. Launch a ‘quick wins’ programme. Set a target of 10% off budget allocations.
9. Launch an elective severance programme.
10. Launch a programme to define your vision of your organisation in three years’ time. Make decisions now on people, partnerships, investments and
priorities.

What a load of irrelevant, harmful machismo tosh. A recipe for increasing chaos, driving up costs and demoralising workers.

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Three things on costs

My own contribution to the current costs debate is to keep talking about three essential things:

1. If you manage costs you usually drive costs up
2. You have to understand and remove the causes of costs
3. When managers learn to manage value they drive costs out of their system

And when managers get this, they drive enormous costs out of their system – always so large that they would never have been declared in any plan.

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The tyranny of planning

I was very lucky to listen to Mary Poppendieck in London earlier this week. She talked about the tyranny of planning and illustrated how so many of man’s great achievements were through doing rather than planning. More on her in future newsletters.

But she reinforced my firm belief that to change we need no plan. For systems thinkers the only plan is get knowledge, no Prince 2, no cost/benefit analysis, no milestones or deliverables – and you always do better than you ever might have planned. Getting knowledge also takes the tyranny out of change.

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Systems Thinking in Wales

A one-day event featuring Systems Thinkers achieving amazing results in Wales.
11th November, Cardiff. For information and bookings: info@vanguardconsult.co.uk

English attendees will envy the quality of relationship between the Welsh Audit
Office and local authorities. No bullying and coercion to do the wrong things as
we have with the Audit Commission.

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Systems Thinking in Northern Ireland

A one-day event in Belfast, jointly hosted with Advice NI. 3rd December (a.m.)
For information and bookings: info@vanguardconsult.co.uk

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Systems Fundamentals in Hull

Systems Fundamentals is a four-day programme we are teaching with Hull University Business School. Hull’s business school is the leading school for systems thinking. We are delighted to be working with them to offer a four-day action-learning programme (you have to do lots of work between the teaching days) to teach the fundamentals. For information: info@vanguardconsult.co.uk

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Systems Fundamentals in the USA

Our man in the USA is having some fun with call centre issues. You can find out more at: http://bit.ly/4grAfN

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Systems Thinking – an introduction

Yours truly will be giving a half-day seminar, an introduction to Systems Thinking, on 15th October in Buckingham.
For information and bookings: info@vanguardconsult.co.uk