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Why Lean? Why Now?

A long time friend told me how his boss asked him to manage his processes on a systems basis.  He wanted process maps and metrics.  He wanted control.  I’d like to help this friend so I asked him about his processes.  What were they?  Who owned them?  What was wrong?  But as he started to describe the work environment, he quickly took a left turn.  He began to tell me how hard everyone was working.  He told me how in the end, they met their goals but that it was killing them to get there.  He told me how the number of clients was growing and they anticipated growing further.  He told me how his company planned to add these clients without adding people.  He feared continuing to add work to the existing personnel would simply create an unstable environment in which the best people, who are starting to see job options, might leave.  And these are his most productive colleagues. 

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Basic psychology tells you that when you find someone’s fear, then you have found the motivation for change.  He was talking to me more out of the fear of an increasingly unstable environment with his team than his boss’ desire for control.  What advice could I offer him?  There are lots of options which we offer as services.  This friend is in a highly entrepreneurial environment so he gets to just do one. Which will it be?  What will reduce his fear? 

I told him he needed to simplify what they are doing.  It’s not time for control.  It’s time to reduce complexity.  How could he do that?  Well his company must be doing something right if they are adding clients in this environment.  But how much of what they do along the way is valued by those clients and how much of it is done because it’s the way it used to be done?  He needs to get rid of everything his customers don’t value.  He needs to get rid of everything that makes his team’s life so stressed and isn’t prized by his clients.  The things that make them work late and extra days.  We didn’t talk about deployment maps or how to introduce management systems.  We simply spoke about his fear.  

How many of us find ourselves in the same work environment?  We are trying to do all the things we used to do. But there are less people around.  And we are starting to grow again.  Maybe growth is not in an accelerated fashion but it is enough to stress out who is here.  And while the fear in the board room may be another decline, the fear in the workplace is of accelerated orders.   So, if people are working at their limit, eliminate what your clients don’t value.  And, if you’re sensing a greater risk from adding a customer ahead of another resource, reduce the complexity.   Let’s take out those non-value added activities and reduce the stress.  Let’s give ourselves the ability to handle growth without taking more risk.  If you find yourself in the same situation as my friend, contact me.

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