Senior Advisor and Partner,
Lean Leadership Institute
We have not seen an online course about developing lean leaders, though one might be out there or may appear. Our course is based on 30 years of research by Dr. Liker and is true to the Toyota Way. It is based on the best selling book: The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership.
We believe that whether the information content comes online or in a classroom it is still a fraction of what you need to be a lean leader. Lean leadership requires lifelong learning to continue to self consciously reflect on and develop your leadership skills. This course gets you started. The key leadership skill is first, leading challenging improvement projects, and ultimately, coaching other leaders to lead improvement projects toward goals aligned with business objectives. We proceed from yellow to master black belt (just markers suggesting for phases of learning) with coaches for your practice and feedback based on your real life situation. Early coaching is all online and for higher levels we encourage paying for onsite visits.
I often think that questions like this suggest a misunderstanding of the problem. Simply stating the problem is we have silos and we want to turn the organization sideways to focus on business processes is not a good problem statement. Presumably there is a process that cuts across silos and the silos need to work together to solve specific problems to achieve specific objectives. The reason they currently do not work together to solve those problems is because of the history of the company, what they were taught, how they are evaluated, and how they have been led. Organizations often exist for decades and the focus for the sake of a sense of control is to measure each silo according to silo criteria–purchasing must reduce cost per unit, manufacturing must reduce manufacturing cost and inventory, etc. To win means meeting your silo metrics and people get good at it. Once the routines for succeeding are well embedded it is very difficult to change the organization by saying “we are now changing the rules of the game.” For one thing, people are skeptical whether the game has really changed. Second, they do not have the skills or knowledge to change the way they work, know what to work on together, and change their behavior
Many companies think that with a magic wand, and organization structure change such as appoint value stream managers, and the right new metrics, the organization will suddenly change. Structurally on paper it may look different and there may be new job titles, but the routines are very inbred and people will behave as they always have. Changing the structure requires changing people’s behavior and ultimately way of thinking about their roles and responsibilities. Changing behavior requires that people have a specific idea of what process needs to be fixed, the leadership to transform it, the time to meet as teams, the skills to work together as teams, and the management clout to make the changes in the process and to follow up and coach people to a new way of behaving. Simple cross-functional projects with a good coach is one starting point–behave your way to a new way of thinking. But the projects must be well led, facilitated, and lead to further action with repeated reinforcement. Senior leaders often do not have the skills or patience for the process required for truly changing the way people think and act.
The biggest risk is that the organizational chart changes and then there is no organized process to step-by-step begin to change the way people think and act. One of the first things likely to happen is that people will get very confused. There is a place for functional silos–to develop deep knowledge and skill in a specific area. I have seen companies blow up the functional structure and go to value stream managers and nobody is thinking about developing deep skills or doing a good job in each function. It weakens the organization instead of strengthening it. Better might be to teach people how to work together to solve specific cross-functional problems with the organization still intact as a functional-based organization and at the same time begin to ease up on the metrics counter to working together across silos. A more gradual step-by-step approach, being aware of the most important problems, can then lead to a lot of learning so if there is a need for a wholesale organization structure change it can be done intelligently with a clear purpose.
In general ISO 9001 implementation is far too bureaucratic. it is bunches of rules and standards and you are judged in following dutifully the rules. The result very quickly begins to kill kaizen as kaizen requires continuously challenging the standards. I know of dumb things like writing on the standard work sheet itself is a problem in the ISO rules because it is a controlled document. Controlled by whom? Specialists in the office--totally opposite of the philosophy of kaizen. Every time anyone at Toyota has been asked about ISO 9001 or QS 9000 when I was around they explain politely that they do not follow this process as they have their own quality system that they believe in. The quality system is PDCA leading to continuous improvement and learning. They did adopt ISO 14000 for environmental standards as they believed that would push them to higher levels of environmental consciousness. On the other hand, I know of quite a few auto suppliers who had very strong, positive cultures and were strong in lean and they were required to adopt ISO 9000 or QS 9000 by their customers. They viewed it in a positive light as an opportunity to check their systems and make them more rigorous and get outside feedback. So the culture can make standards like this either negative, coercive experiences they hide from or positive enabling experiences to help them improve. I would make similar observations about any other bureaucracies like the elaborate stage-gate models used in many product development system which can take on a life of their own as coercive bureaucracy, as opposed to the enabling bureaucracy that is more characteristic of Toyota.
It would be almost an embarrassment in most manufacturing firms today to admit that they do not have a lean, six sigma, or lean six sigma program. It defines the modern company. Yet, most manufacturing firms have been disappointed with the results of these programs.
So what is the problem? While the results of these projects look great on paper, or in the initial implementation, the actual new processes are rarely followed or sustained and revert back to the prior state. And why does this happen?
Most companies that have these programs think that “experts,” certified as “black belts,” doing formal projects in a standard way is the essence of lean six sigma. Unfortunately, in many companies the “black belts” are not expert in the manufacturing processes they are supposed to be improving, they did not grow up in the plants, they do not fit into the culture, and they are paid high salaries for their experience. In other words, they are outsiders who fly down by helicopter to analyze the process, make recommendations, develop plans for measurement to control the process, and get back in their helicopter to fly to the next project site. In the meantime, they leave behind the managers who worked their way up through the hierarchy through many years of hard work and have to keep production running while supposedly implementing the ideas of these youngsters. Predictably, they do not buy in and do not take ownership.
Toyota evolved TPS and The Toyota Way over many decades based on experience, reflection, systematic trial and era, and organizational learning. The underlying philosophy was to develop people with basic tools for understanding the problem and trial countermeasures to learn what will work to bring them closer to challenging improvement targets. Those at the gemba, for example the shopfloor, who were managing the processes were responsible for improving the processes. Any “experts” were only available to coach and help with hard problems. The goal was to more closely approach the ideal of one-piece flow. By developing people to work toward perfect processes to satisfy customers Toyota could adapt to a rapidly changing environment and maintain competitiveness.
I have worked with companies with a strong, positive team-based culture where black belts do wonderful work facilitating and teaching. So it is not the methodology, it is the philosophy. The end game should be a culture of continuous improvement. And as this course emphasizes leadership is the key to a positive culture.