Featured Story 3: Do-Think-Do vs. Think-Do-Think
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FEATURED STORY:  Do-Think-Do vs. Think-Do-Think

This story is copyrighted by Spectrum Publishing. All requests to use it must be addressed to info@spectrum-pub.com

 THE STORY:  It was Late Friday afternoon and Al was heading for the World-Class implementation Steering Committee meeting.  As he walked down the hallway he kept thinking, 'What a waste of time. We have been thinking and talking about improving our lead-time and reducing inventories for 6 months and still nothing has happened.'
As he entered the room, the usual group was there with their note pads out, ready to write.  "We'll wait a few minutes before we start," states Art, the project manager. 
'This is starting out just like all the other meetings,' thought Al.  'The only people here on time are the ones who like to hear themselves speak.'  The meeting begins and they review what was on the white board in the last few meetings.  Issue Number 1:  how do we get started?  'Here we go again,' Al says to himself.
"I still feel we need to find a system to reduce lead time," states the MIS director, "maybe a finite scheduling system with a simulation module." 
"Maybe we should educate management first on methods and techniques," says the Engineering Director.
"Maybe we need to establish a sub-committee to look at systems," says the Material Control Manager.
The Manufacturing Manager jumps in with "Shouldn't we visit our sister site to see what they did?"
"Should we benchmark where we are against the market place?" asks the Director of Total Quality.
"Who is going to do this?"  "By when will it be done?"  A lot more questions come from the group.
"Well," says the President, "I told corporate that we would have a plan in place in three to six months.  We're already one month into that, so we better get busy."
"Can we get more time?" is the next question from the group.
While Al is listening to the conversation he adds up how much money is in the room.  'For less money than we have tied up in this committee so far, we could have hired someone to do this for us and it would be been done by now.  How are we going to do it ourselves when we do not know how to get started or what to do?  None of us will admit that we don't know how to do it, so we go round and round and try to get a consensus.  So far all it has led to is each person looking into some aspect of the problem and reporting on it at the next meeting.  I guess I just don't see how doing it ourselves saves money when it never really gets done.  It's almost like doing open-heart surgery on yourself to save money. We've seen it on TV and it looks so simple.'  The meeting ends as Al expects with the plan to write out the detailed plan for implementation at the next meeting.  Again.

DISCUSSION:  What Al witnessed is very common in manufacturing companies today.  Since controlling cost is one of the key management goals, and since most management people are bright and understand the business they are in, they expect that if they can develop a blueprint for a project implementation, they will save money by doing it by themselves rather than by hiring an outsider to do the implementation.  Unfortunately, developing a blueprint for change that is required when reducing lead times and inventories requires looking at the business differently.  Sometimes insiders who are so focused on their day-to-day activities have a hard time seeing how change can be successful in their environment.  They know all of the people involved and they know what has worked and what has failed previously and this colors their view.  Many times an outsider can come in and analyze a company's process and find theoretical room for improvement.  However, the real improvement comes only when the change is actually implemented.
The company's answer is generally to establish a committee.  All the involved departments end up looking out for their interests.  The result is usually meeting after meeting discussing each problem in detail as it relates to each committee member's department.  Regardless of the plan developed in the committee, implementation is almost impossible because ALL departments have to change AT THE SAME TIME.  Any one department can make the whole plan fail.  RESULT:  people end up justifying what little gets done as "better than before."
THOUGHT:  "We need more data before we can get started."  "When the new system is in, we'll be able to figure out exactly what's wrong."  "Invite a couple of consultants in and have them give us a proposal."  Sometimes this is called "analysis to paralysis."
People would rather analyze than change.  Planning for change is not threatening, but actual change is.  Nobody likes change, but everyone claims to be doing continuous improvement.  Continuous improvement implies continuous change, yet when you really dig into a continuous improvement program, you usually find that an initial change was made and that's all.  Most programs of change in companies follow the pattern Plan-Action-Plan or Think-Do-Think.  When this happens, too much time passes between idea generation and project implementation.  Sometimes in these environments, companies lose strong, action-oriented people because it takes too long for change (that everyone agreed on!) to happen.  The theme should be to ask for forgiveness, not permission.
To counter this passive environment, companies must change (no pun intended) the way they operate.  Establish a small team of internal people.  They should have a general blueprint and be given the authority to try things without having to look over their shoulders.  The Steering Committee should also be small and should act as cheer leaders as the team tries to make improvements.  Maybe an outsider needs to be part of the team to act as the catalyst for change.
Maybe we have all become afraid to charge in and take action because we may make a mistake.  Remember that many great discoveries were made by mistake.  To develop a workforce that is action-oriented, management must remove the fear of "if I make a mistake I'll get fired."  On the other hand, no one should be a fool and jump in front of a moving car.  Do-Think-Do, NOT Think-Do-Think.
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