Every organization is improving; they have to. Consumers and patients want higher quality and better outcomes. Shareholders demand lower costs and higher profits. New laws and regulations require better compliance and performance.

And every organization has a current process for meeting these changing demands. Some organizations lead the charge, some are ‘fast followers’, others lag behind and still other wander around in circles.

Improving Improvement

When people talk about wanting to “do Lean” it means something isn’t right. Their process isn’t meeting the demands of customers, patients, shareholders or regulators. They hear examples of what Lean can deliver, for example 90% reduction in errors, and think “I want that!” or, more specifically, “We need to DO that!” What they’re really saying is they need to improve their improvement process!

Now, everybody wants the results that Lean delivers, but are they willing to practice what Lean requires to get them? This is a question worth carefully considering BEFORE launching a huge Lean initiative that quickly falls down and dies.

Let me share a simple, effective model that I use for framing this discussion and clarifying what it means to ‘do’ Lean.

Three Key Dimensions

Improvement processes can be viewed along three key dimensions. They are velocity, engagement and magnitude.

  1. Velocity – How fast are improvements occurring in a given area today? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Quarterly? Annually? What pace of improvement are you and your organization comfortable with and can sustain?
  2. Engagement – What percentage of your workforce regularly works to improve processes and performance? Is everyone involved or just an elite group?
  3. Magnitude – How much improvement are projects delivering today? Less than 10%? 10% to 20%? Greater than 20%? Are projects just nibbling around the edges or making radical changes?

So, any discussion about improving improvement starts with assessing the current process along these three dimensions.

Improvement Quadrants…Where Does Lean Fit In?

Let’s focus on velocity and engagement today. A 2×2 matrix quickly clarifies what Lean is all about and helps people navigate the route ahead if they decide to make the trip.

Based on their answers above, we find where they are in the matrix. Remember, these dimensions are a continuum so they may straddle quadrants.

Lean is a high-velocity, high-engagement improvement process.

Low Engagement, Low Velocity – ‘Suggestion Programs’ describes companies that don’t like frequent changes and don’t engage people much. People make suggestions and managers may ask for them, but there’s no guarantee they’ll get implemented. Changes tend to be local, i.e., confined within a department.

High Engagement, Low Velocity – ‘Big Initiatives’ describes companies that don’t change frequently, but engage their people extensively when it happens. These changes commonly affect the entire enterprise and are facilitated by outside consultants. Think big software applications like Oracle and SAP.

Low Engagement, High Velocity – ‘Tiger Teams’ describe companies that make frequent changes, but don’t involve many people in the process. These companies commonly have dedicated teams whose sole job is process improvement and they move from problem to problem.

High Engagement, High Velocity – This is Lean! Change happens frequently (think daily) throughout the enterprise and involves everybody in the value stream. So, ‘doing Lean’ means moving towards the upper right quadrant.

Now, these four alternatives do NOT create the same culture; people’s responses to them are quite different. And they do NOT deliver the same results.  Both of which I’ll discuss next week.

But, until then, where is your organization on this matrix today? Which dimension would be more difficult to increase in your company, velocity or engagement?

Let’s Ride!

Todd Hudson, Head Maverick