Controls are they really effective – A lean thought

As a lean thinker, one question I would like to answer myself is that “whether controls are effective?” This is one question which was kept asking in many organizations in many contexts. All the managers and executives require some mechanisms to control the activities of their subordinates. This might be due to many reasons. One is to make sure everything is going in the way they intended. Another is to avoid frauds. Another reason may be just to show that they have control over their subordinate’s activities. And their may be many other reasons to this as well. But my question is whether they are really effective?

Lean manufacturing believes in fool proofing the processes so that the process itself will avoid the problems. This is known as pokayoka. This is actually a system where the problem will be detected as and when they occur and then corrective action will be taken avoid the problem. More importantly here, measures are taken to avoid the possibilities of that problem coming up. Controls for me are end of pipe system of fighting problems. For an example if a procurement manager requires to sign and authorize purchase orders which are above a certain value, if this control to be really effective the manager must go through the history of this PO and validate every step of this process and then do the authorization. If he finds a problem he will ask for explanations from his subordinates and ask them to correct it. Otherwise he will authorize the PO with his signature. But in reality how many of the managers go into that depth before they authorize it. It becomes a routine task to sign the purchase orders coming to him. So that control adds a non value adding activity to the system and also complicates the processes. On the other hand if the purchaser wants he will create two purchase orders with half the value of the original each so that the limit will not be exceeded. So for me controls like this becomes only processes which are none value adding and also time consuming. If any organization wants to have this kind of control in purchasing I believe it is simple to ask the manager himself to raise the PO which is above a certain value. This will save his time and will serve the purpose since it has a focus responsibility.

But still I do not like the concept of controls. I believe trusting people to do their job is an easy way of doing this. People do not like to do wrong things unless they feel they should. One way of making them to feel to break the rules and trust is to impose many controls on them. When there is a control on them, there is always a workaround.

To effectively have a control, build the disciplines to the system itself. In a lean environment above requirement might not be their since the ordering is taking place when the requirement is there to the required quantity. So no problem for over ordering here. If someone has over ordered then it will get highlighted immediately and corrective action can be taken.

Leaders in lean manufacturing success

Lean manufacturing is a continuous process. Lean implementations require great understanding of the industry, human behavior, requirements of the implementation and so on. As I have stressed in many of my previous posts it is not the lean tools which will make your lean dream a reality. It is the people who will make this a reality.

Any lean implementation is a challenge for everyone in the organization. It challenges the traditional practices and ways of working. It will also question the requirement of carrying out certain activities. Lean thinking challenges interdepartmental mindsets and also the supply chain integrities. All these throw a challenge to everyone in the organization. They have to change. Change will not come easily. People need to be convinced and they have to be lead and guided towards the change. This requires good leaders. Lean leaders must be able to communicate effectively and get people to align to the lean way.

Leaders must have the knowledge of the industry and must have the necessary experience to lead the implementation to a success. This is not to say young people can not do a good job in lean implementations, but to stress the importance of experience and the knowledge in combination with lean thinking in succeeding with lean.

Lean leaders must have a good knowledge of human behavior and the requirements of people. Understanding people is the key to success. Driving out the fear from people, making to feel them comfortable in the process and appreciating them in the lean efforts and importantly making use of them are very important. He should be able to impart the team sprit in the organization.

Apart from the operational points we discussed here, it is very important that leader has a good vision. This vision will lead the leader to the success. Not necessary to say that this lean vision must be aligned with the vision of the organization.

We have to discuss many more things on leadership in lean manufacturing context in many different angles. I am keeping it to the next posts.

Treating the skin without thinking about the heart

No, this is not a post on your health. I am neither a doctor to advise you on this topic. But we all understand the problem stated in the topic. Most of the organizations fall into this trap. They start looking into the minor details and they forget the basics. Especially this happens when organizations grow larger.

When organizations grow larger they start thinking about improving their productivity, competitive advantage, and their image. I do not see any problem in this. But the problem starts when they start neglecting the basics like managing and treating people well, keeping them motivated and keeping to process disciplines. Many big companies think software, electronics and automation will improve their performance. But in reality these will not mean anything if people are not motivated and systems are not sorted and so on. What will be the result? These companies will invest millions and millions in new software and equipment and they will start treating people as a negative factor for their improvement. This will result in additional costs, de motivation of employees and loosing the concentration on systems. Ultimately this will make problem worse.

If you are a lean manufacturer or not, you must always stick to the basics. All the other advancements must build on this base.