mountaintop

A Snapshot in Time

Don’t try to hang a “photograph” in your organization. Take the time to go out and take your own.

“I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.”

I find this to be an absolutely remarkable quote by Pablo Picasso. The quote is an excellent intro to the subject matter of this article. You may notice that this quote is by a master abstract painter, not a manufacturing engineer, manager or famous consultant. You might be asking, “What does this quotation have to do with continuous improvement and lean?”

I think that is an excellent question, allow me to elaborate…

To answer this question we need to look at the definition of a photograph. A photograph by definition is “an image, especially a positive print, recorded by a camera and reproduced on a photosensitive surface.” A photograph is essentially a snapshot in time, it only represents the moment it was taken. A photograph does not tell an individual what happened before it was taken or after it was taken.

For instance, if we were looking at a photograph of an individual triumphantly planting a flag at the top of a mountain, it really only tells us the success of the climb. The photograph does not tell us the whole story; it only tells us a small portion of the story. There is far more to it than just planting a flag, right?

The photograph does not communicate the height of the mountain. It does not tell us the time invested in training, the time invested in the climb, the tools used, the struggles the climber overcome or what kind of supplies the climber hauled in his backpack. It doesn’t communicate the difficultly of descending or the dangers faced. It doesn’t tell us if there were any injuries or if this was the first attempt or the last attempt of many.

When we really step back, the photograph really doesn’t tell us too much.

What You Don't See

Have you or your company tried to implement a “photograph” in your organization? Have you witnessed a “photograph” of a kaizen program, lean or continuous improvement program in another company and tried to implement it in yours? Maybe you have seen it on a plant tour or a video and thought about how great it would be to have it in your organization. Maybe you have tried to implement this “photograph” in your organization, and it failed miserably. Causing you to drop the idea or causing management to disregard the importance and proclaiming “that won’t work here.”

I find often organizations try to implement the “photograph” and jump right into attempting to plant the flag on top of the mountain. This is a major problem because often when this is attempted the programs fail and demotivate the investors. Worse yet, when the same program is rolled out multiple times people lose interest and inevitably get the “not this again” outlook.

Just like the photograph of the climber, the “photograph” of a continuous improvement program can lose many important elements. For instance, the program you are being shown (or reading about) could be a world-class continuous improvement program and have great visual factory and cultural significance. But you cannot expect these “flags” to be planted without the climb.

This program “photograph” does not tell you how much time was invested in continuous improvement training. It doesn’t tell you how the training was given. Was it given to people individually or in teams? Was there a dedicated resource to train people and encourage them? What kinds or tools were used? How difficult was it? How were roadblocks handled? How do people access their “backpacks” to use the tools?  

Now, If we revisit the quote from Picasso I believe you may see the relevance…

“I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.”

My suggestion is not to attempt implementing a photograph or to implement a system “as you see it.”Go out and explore many different continuous improvement theories and tools. Discover the different techniques of training and employee engagement. Take time to design, plan and roll out a strategic, dynamic continuous improvement system. Dedicate intrinsically motivated resources to implement the system and plant the flag on top of the mountain. Use imagination and paint the system “how you think it.”

Don’t try to hang a “photograph” in your organization. Take the time to go out and take your own.

Eric Bigelow is a continuous improvement expert located in Spirit Lake, Iowa. He is an advocate for dynamic employee engagement along with cultural succession programs to spread the continuous improvement philosophies. Join him on Linked-In or email him at [email protected].

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