Planning to succeed
October 19, 2009 | 7:00 pm CDT

To set the tone for this article I want to indulge in an unpardonable writing sin I'm going to deliberately misspell a word. Please bear with me and stretch your mind in the process. There are two words that share similarity in spelling, but are at opposite ends of the success scale. One is victor and the other is victim, which for illustrative purposes is spelled "victum."

A victor is decisive, always searching for a better alternative or better way to succeed by trying one solution, or another solution or another one, etc. At the other end of the scale is the victum. The victum is indecisive, lacking guidance and direction. He usually spends a lot of time going ummm, ummm, ummm, constantly searching, but never able to develop a solution for success. If the victim procrastinates too long, he may be obliterated by the victor.

That's exactly what's happening in our industry today. Domestic furniture manufacturers are standing around going ummm, ummm, ummm, while overseas competition builds an ever increasing market share. If you haven't taken the time to read George Koeninger's new book, China's War on the American Economy, I suggest you make it a must read for every member of your staff. This book highlights why your company has to get on the lean bandwagon right now. Don't wait another day.

Develop a plan

Although I stress that you launch the lean journey immediately, I want to caution you to take time to develop a plan that will ensure success. Too often a manager identifies a crisis and jumps in with both feet, only to find he's standing in quicksand.

As I mentioned in the last article, my partner and I developed a planning tool that, when properly executed, will help you achieve success every time. We call it the Tactical Operations Plan (TOP) or, for those who prefer a less militaristic designation, the Tactical Planning Tool (TPT). I want to share a couple of examples of the simplicity and comprehensiveness of the TPT.

As you know, the first step in the lean journey is workplace organization (5S) the foundation of lean. On the surface, workplace organization seems simple enough for any supervisor to undertake on his or her own initiative. After all, how difficult can it be to clean up the work area? People do that every day right? Wrong! Workplace organization goes far beyond cleaning the work area, and the only way to ensure a successful 5S implementation is through a well-developed, executable plan.

The Just do it' mandate

A typical approach to 5S is a mandate issued by the plant manager for all the supervisors to clean and organize their departments by a certain date. In other words, "just do it." At least that was the initial approach by the plant manager at a company we worked with recently.

Needless to say, the mandated completion date came and went without getting closer to the objective. After introducing the Tactical Planning Tool to the plant manager, he reissued the objective in the following executable format. Names have been changed to protect the client company.

1. Current Situation:

Our company has been directed to complete the first three Ss (sort, set in order, shine) of our workplace organization plan by , 2008 for every area in the company. We must accomplish this task while continuing to maintain current operations. Our production requirements, available personnel and overtime rules will remain at the same level as today. Consider this mission as Phase I of a larger plan to eliminate WIP and address the Kaizen recommendations to complete daily optimization at the panel saw by , 2008.

2. Mission or Task:  

Plants I, II and III will complete the first three Ss (sort, set in order, shine) of workplace organization by , in accordance with the standards established in the Work Place Organization Standards file on the company server.

Intent: My intent is to accomplish two things during this mission. First, we must demonstrate that we have the leadership infrastructure to effectively mobilize our resources and focus them on accomplishing a task. Then, we must accomplish the most basic and foundational component of becoming lean, which is workplace organization. Using the resources provided, my intent is to complete the mission while continuing to operate at current levels. I also expect each leader and team to incorporate team sessions into their plan to capture key learning points/lessons learned.

3. Implementation:

a. Overall concept of the plan is:

1. Planning Phase

  • I will issue the order on xx/xx.
  • From 8:00-9:00 a.m. each day between xx/xx and xx/xx you will prepare your plans.
  • You will present your plans to me on xx/xx.

2. Preparation Phase

  • Your plans will address the preparations required to accomplish the mission.

3. Implementation Phase

  • Include each step of the Work Place Organization Standards in your plan.
  • Coordinate use of resources.
  • Utilize team sessions to capture "lessons learned."
  • Include a timeline of work.
  • Include an assessment method.

b. Directions for coordination

  • Ensure your plan coordinates all available resources.
  • Plan your activities so they don't restrict completion of your internal customer's production requirements.
  • Any coordination between teams that can't be worked out will be brought to me.
  • I will determine resource priorities.

4. Support and Resources Available

  • The lean coordinator is available to assist in any phase of your plan.
  • Jim and Dave are available to assist with any phase of your plan with a priority to planning, coordinating and team sessions for lessons learned.
  • Maintenance will be coordinated through me.
  • Additional resource requirements will be coordinated through me.

5. Communication and Leadership

  • Regular progress sessions will be conducted weekly in our one-on-one.
  • Any questions concerning "how to do" one of the 5 Ss should be directed to the lean coordinator.
  • We will not move any major pieces of equipment, but note those recommendations in your plan.
  • Once your plan is approved, changes must be coordinated through me.
  • Communicate with each other to accomplish our goals.
  • You will lead your team; I will lead Plants I, II, III.

This simple format ensures the plant manager or project sponsor provides all necessary information for subordinate leaders to develop a plan that supports the objective and ensures success. In the next article, I will cover how the subordinate leader develops and executes his plan. Remember, the only way to ensure success is to plan for it.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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About the author
Jim Lewis

Jim Lewis has worked in the furniture industry for 40 years with a special emphasis on facilitating the transformation process for businesses embracing the Lean Business Model.  Jim’s company, The Center for Lean Learning, is headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI, with an office in St. Thomas, ON, Canada.  He is a consultant, author, and writer.  Jim’s books include, “The Journey to Excellence – Successfully Applying Lean Thinking in Your Business,” “A Testament to Lean Thinking – Cases for Change,” and a series of ebooklets under the main title “Applying Lean Thinking.”  The books are in ebook format and are available through all major ebook retailers and through