For the last couple of years I have often felt like my team was a bottleneck. We are small group of internal Lean consultants is a very large organization. Over time with greater success and recognition so to has the demand for Lean support. Over the last six months the demand has exponentially grown as the organization has embraced an organization wide Lean transformation. It can be very frustrating to say no to someone that is asking for help, which has often been the case. In response to demand we have focused our limited Lean consulting resources around the Hoshin strategies and around transforming our management system at the top.
Recently, my thinking has changed and so to has my feeling on this mater. As we have learned more about Lean as a management system as opposed to Lean as a set of tools driven by events I have shifted away from a transformation model centered around consultants to one centered around Lean leaders. My change in view comes from the Model Line experience and what happened when one senior leader becomes a lean zealot and began to process of driving forward with a Lean management system in their area. While this VP was supported by consultants it was the leader that owned and drove the thinking and change forward. He did not rely on consultants to make the change for him, but instead pulled his leadership together and began the process of driving change with a heavy dose of PDCA. The consultants played a role, but it was not the most critical role. The real work was done by the leaders and staff in the area.
Another great example is when I first started working with Dr. Eytan the co-author of this blog. Ted bought a copy of the Toyota Way and within days we driving forward with a new set of principles with amazing outcomes. Ted has never waited for others to show him how to create change, instead he would move quickly from learning a concept to practicing its application in the work place. This is not to say Ted has never asked for consultation, which he has, but instead to say that Ted has never let the lack of a consultant slow him down a single step.
While it was important to have Lean experts in support of leadership a company also has to be aware of the risks the consultants bring to the transformation. All companies taking on a transformation will need to bring in new thinking and expertise and the consultants can play this role. Yet, if they are creating a bottleneck a company needs to step back and ask why five times. Consultants can bring new skills and thinking to the table, but they can never substitute for the learning that take place through experience. If a set of leaders are sitting on the sideline waiting for Lean consultants before they can begin to improve the company has a serious management system problem that needs to be addressed. I know of several companies, many in healthcare that have not addressed the root cause to this problem and instead have continued to hire consultants to fill their management system gap. An army of Lean consultants will never compensate for what is most needed to fuel a transformation: dedicated leaders that are willing to jump in and get started now!
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