Chicken and Eggs
This doesn’t have anything to do with poultry, but more with the age old question of which comes first. (Although, if you’d like to talk about actual chickens, let me know.) When pushing forward a continuous improvement mindset, one of the first obstacles is in understanding where your biggest problems are. This is often an issue because the structure doesn’t exist to gather, compile, and filter data from the operation. Using an A3 format as an example, it becomes very difficult to get past the first step if you can’t quantify where you are in relation to your ideal state. Or, if you can’t quantify the relative impact of potential causes on the outcome you are measuring.
In general, this leaves you with a couple of choices. Choice A is to go forward with what you have and make changes based on what information you have available. Choice B is to put the brakes on for a while and focus your improvement efforts on improving the measurement and reporting systems. Both of these options have upside and downside.
If you follow the path of Choice A, you can start down the path of training people in the methodology and mindset of Lean problem solving. Those are good things, plus you get the visibility of “implementing Lean”. The downside of this path is that you really don’t have a good idea of the relative scope of issues and you risk working on something that isn’t that impactful or has to be undone when seen in better context.
Following Choice B, you will most likely end up with a more whole understanding of what you should be working on and why. However, you run the risk of losing support as others don’t see anything happening and people start to question when the “real work” will start.
So…which comes first…the problem solving or the measurement system? The short answer that I have come across is this: It depends. In theory, an effective measurement system highlights the problems that need to be addressed and is a must to have in place. In practice, not all organizations are patient enough to build the core of the metrics system without pushing the ‘execution’ phase along quickly. One of the skills involved in leading Lean (or, really, leading anything), is the understanding of where you may or may not have cultural (or individual) support to be patient or you need to “just do it”, building context of the picture on the fly. As uncomfortable as it may be, your people, your culture, and your environment trump the textbook roadmap almost every time.