How to Accomplish a Lean Turnaround at Warp Speed

by Joe Dager
Posted 9/14/2009

How can I accelerate a turnaround, or for that matter any implementation? I can’t wait; I have to do it NOW! The first item on your list is to stop running on overload. Remember, it’s not a matter of time but a matter of priorities. Define your goals and needs correctly, create realistic completion dates as well as clear-cut plans. Time will take care of itself. Running by the seat of your pants creates numerous project breakdowns and a constant firefighting effort that will propagate throughout the organization.

A lean transformation in your company may be the best way to create the scenario you need for success. You need to instill processes and culture, manage events, and work at warp speed. Lean has a structure that is well-defined – a proven commodity that you can follow in a step-by-step basis. Don’t let poor planning be your downfall.

1) Develop culture: Lean is about people. The culture you need to develop is about bringing the decision down to the individual level. This is an important part of working at warp speed. It will also readily identify those who are not on the team and not willing to make the commitments that you need to survive. People who don’t care will not commit. On-boarding is extremely important in a turnaround, and working at warp speed will only magnify those who are not committed.

2) Maps and metrics: The lean tools of current state, value stream and future state mapping along, with the metrics you determine, will provide the realistic guidelines that you need to stop the constant firefighting and running on overload. Using these tools will also identify your customer needs and eliminate waste within your organization quickly and efficiently.

3) Inject kaizen: Holding regular kaizen events that are well-structured will actually reduce the amount of meetings needed and provide clarity to the entire organization. So many times when firefighting is taking place, there seems to be a constant flow of meetings which accomplish nothing. A kaizen event incorporating the lean principles of continuous improvement creates a scenario that there is always room for improvement. Meetings gain a much higher level of importance.

Lean will create higher quality, reduce waste and create greater efficiencies. As a result, higher profitability will be achieved. Sounds like a pretty good formula for a turnaround! Can it be done quick enough to survive?

The way you accelerate any process is to do things concurrently, so segment your business and use the lean principles as identified above in each of them. I would use the four key areas of the balanced scorecard as a guideline for segmentation in a small business.

Financial: How do we look to shareholders? (Include bankers, vendors, etc.)

Customers: How do customers see us? (Sales and marketing)

Internal process: What must we excel at? (Operations)

Innovation and learning: Can we continue to improve and create value? (Training)

Using these four areas, you can create the lean transformation, using the tools described above. This will allow you to accelerate your turnaround, theoretically of course, four times faster. There are a couple of keys to this type of deployment. I believe these three are the most critical:

1. Create a balanced scorecard for the organization in order to provide clarity. I actually use the One-Page Business Plan as my tool of choice, and I would use it for each segment that is created.

2. Training is extremely important but seldom utilized in a turnaround. The reason, of course, is not enough time or money to do this. However, without the skill set to drive decision making downward in the organization, much of what you are trying to accomplish will fail. Think of the adage that you must give in order to get!

3. Lean experience is another critical factor. Few people have ever experienced a turnaround or the amount of slowness in the economy that we are experiencing now. It will be much easier to find a lean practitioner or consultant. The other key to this person or organization is that they must participate with each of the segments to insure that the overall objectives are compatible. In the beginning, there would be quite a bit of involvement. Soon, that participation would be reduced to training and the kaizen events.

Lean transformation can be done very effectively and efficiently. I did not even touch on the tools of 5-S and numerous others that can effectively reduce vast amounts of waste. If you were in this situation, what tools would you use?

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