Tuesday, 20 March 2012


Most of us enjoy a good joke. And, of course, the secret of good comedy is timing. Every weekend, you will also hear at least one sports commentator say that someone “showed perfect timing” or “makes time” when they achieved something out of the ordinary. Do we recognise that the same is true in business?

I recently sat in on a three-day Kaizen event. The objective was to identify areas of potential improvement by firstly mapping their key process – usually a fantastic technique.

The timing of the event, relative to the organization’s urgent need to deliver some high-value orders to key customers, appeared odd. Other actions, to mitigate risk and improve gross margin, were also put on hold.

In closing the event, the sponsor signalled that it may take two years to complete the process redesign, but left no guidance as to how this should happen. Chaos may ensue. Customers may continue to complain. Orders will be late. Is a perfectly good business, with hard working employees and a strong brand, being put at risk?

Did this experienced leader get it wrong? He was new to this business. His portfolio included many other plants serving other markets. He only spent a few days visiting before making an intuitive decision - what worked elsewhere should work here.

Before his “part-time” appointment to the role, his superiors invested little time in assessing the situation or the needs of the individuals involved. Collectively, they failed to complete an honest “Root Cause Analysis” of the issues.

This is a specific example, but I fear it is not unique. Executives must be seen to act decisively. If they are remote from the action, they simply do not know what they do not know. They must “make time” for old fashioned problem analysis if they want to achieve the extra-ordinary.

Was the executive’s intuition correct? Time will tell, but what do you think? Was the timing of the initiative poor? Is process improvement always more urgent than satisfying customers and delivering current commitments on time?

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