Monthly Archives: July 2017

Decentralize to be more nimble

Flattening the organization (i.e., reducing layers of middle management) by itself is not the answer to becoming more nimble. Flat organizations are still steered by the remaining managers and not driven by market pull.

Delegation is a small step in the right direction; however, decisions are still made by lower level managers and not by self-organizing teams nor those closest to customers.

Decentralized organizations, however, encourage decision making at the boundary where customer or market interaction occurs. Learning is fast, decision making swift, and pivoting easy. TJ Maxx is an example – purchasers can make on-the-spot decisions without prior approval or permission from head office. Contrast this with purchasers from other retailers who are bogged down with long-term contracts and have little leeway in who from and what they can purchase. Not surprisingly, TJX is one of the two retailers in the US growing despite a tough environment.


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Posted by on July 31, 2017 in leadership



The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership

In partnership with George Trachilis from the Lean Leadership Institute (LLI), I’m making available material from LLI’s “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership” course. Check back every week for a new chapter from the course.

Week 17: A3 Examples: Standards, Standard Work, and Visual Management
Week 16: More A3 Stories
Week 15: A3 Stories
Week 14: A3 Thinking
Week 13: Why PDCA?
Week 12: Problem Solving to Develop People
Week 11: Root Cause Using 5 Whys
Week 10: Toyota Business Practices – An Example
Week 9: Toyota Business Practices Explained
Week 8: Problem Solving Towards Ideal Part I and Problem Solving Towards Ideal Part II
Week 7: What is Lean? Problem Solving, Improvement, and A3 Thinking
Week 6: Developing People
Week 5: Lean Thinking—Philosophy for the Long-term
Week 4: True North Values
Week 3: Toyota Production System Origins
Week 2: Problem Solving: The Toyota Way
Week 1: Great Company Characteristics

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Posted by on July 31, 2017 in leadership, lean


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Agile Transformation Learning Curve

Many a time, I’ve brought up the conventional learning curve (J-Curve) to help agile champions understand that there will likely be a dip in productivity while adjusting to the new lean-agile way. This dip is followed by a rapid increase in effectiveness and efficiency as the new approach is mastered and finally culminates in a plateau at a higher level.

While I’ve seen this J-Curve (on the left in the image below) unfold countless times with team members making the transition to agile; I’ve seldom encountered this with managers in large organizations. A different dynamic plays out and the transformation’s learning curve looks slightly different (on the right in the image below).

Sketches - 3

In the right hand figure, there is an initial improvement that is driven by an illusion of learning. In this stage, managers have had some introductory training and the organization has mastered the rhetoric of the new approach. People know enough to be dangerous and spend some effort in grafting the new way onto the old organizational approaches — but the same old premises are at work. While there is much activity nothing new is being done by management — no new approaches to problem solving, decision making, budgeting, horizontal relationships, etc.

The initial rise in effectiveness/productivity stalls and subsequent introspection leads to a sufficient understanding to see that “we don’t really know much.” This “A-ha!” experience is the beginning of the integration of acquired knowledge with know-how. It leads to a reset — a new beginning — and the start of real learning that results in a rapid increase in effectiveness.

I know real learning has started when I begin noticing signs of managers asking smarter questions and applying the principles learned earlier to current circumstances.

What has been your experience? Do you see this primarily in large organizations or is this a universally predictable pattern?

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Posted by on July 10, 2017 in Agile