I’m honored to be included on the program of an event that features so many luminaries in the field. My small contribution will be a session entitled Structural Impediments to Lean. The premise is that the conventional organizational structures and basic assumptions regarding roles and procedures tend to present obstacles to the effective use of Lean thinking in companies. It’s a subject I started to explore in earnest a couple of years ago at Lean Kanban Europe 2010 and have continued to explore in my work since then.
Here is the session description from the program.
The numerous failed attempts to introduce new ways of thinking and new methods in organizations all around the world have a common theme: Improvement initiatives have been hampered and often crushed to death by the organization’s structure, even when each individual involved understands and accepts the value proposition and desires to do the right thing. People can only do whatever the structure allows them to do without harm to themselves.
I have observed that the formal administrative structures and conventional assumptions about procedures, governance, budgeting, planning, measurement, processes, and professional roles create significant impediments to achieving and sustaining any sort of organizational improvement, including Lean implementations. The structure of an organization guides the flow of work within it, just as the shape and condition of a water pipe guides the flow of water through it. We cannot successfully introduce deep changes in mindset and methods without effecting corresponding changes in structure, just as we cannot force a poorly-designed or poorly-maintained pipe to support a greater flow of water merely by installing a more powerful pump.
How, then, should we structure our organizations to enable and support emerging approaches such as Agile, Lean, Beyond Budgeting, Real Options, Management 3.0, and throughput-based measurement? What organizational structures are necessary to make high-value approaches such as cross-functional teams, collocated teams, and long-standing, dedicated teams the norm rather than the exception? Lean Thinking and Systems Thinking offer guidance.
We consider organizational structure in light of principles of Lean Thinking and Systems Thinking and trace how inappropriate structure leads to failure despite the best of intentions. For each basic principle of Lean Thinking, we ask how the principle applies to organizational structure and how different structures enable or hamper the application of that principle.