New audio-tape: “Introducing lean service”

A new audio-tape has been added to our series. “Introducing lean service” runs for 27 minutes and explains how we have taken the concepts of ‘lean thinking’ and applied them to service organisations.


Targets don’t get you what you want

Targets are part of current management parlance. They are normal, common and everywhere. But they are unhelpful. Targets take peoples’ ingenuity away from method; they are arbitrary, having no basis in knowledge. We might all like to reduce costs by half, have twice as many customers and so on, but the question is always: ‘by what method’ and targets don’t provide an answer.

I like to illustrate this problem with a story: A team was presenting their improvement work to a Toyota sensei – an expert in performance improvement. They described the current process – it took 15 minutes to change over a machine. They had set a target to get to 5 minutes and they got to seven and a half. They had halved the time. At the end of the presentation the sensei asked why they had not achieved their target. The team was surprised, expecting to be praised.

The team responded to his questions with explanations, issues they could not resolve and so forth. But the sensei responded to these things with more questions. He was not suggesting they had failed, he was asking whether they had explored all of the possibilities.

But more than that he was trying to show them that the target had been established without a method. He showed them that a good knowledge of the work should lead to predictions about what could be achieved.

And that is the central issue – understanding leads to peoples’ ingenuity being engaged in improving the work.

Why do managers like targets? There appear to be two reasons:

1. Targets are rational; they are derived from a financial plan. If everything works to plan, the plan is achieved.

2. Targets are assumed to motivate people. Managers believe they give people ‘something to go for’.

Here is an imaginary conversation between a senior and junior manager.

Senior Manager: “Here is your target.”

Junior Manager: “But what about method – how should I go about achieving it?”

Senior Manager: “That’s what I pay you for, deciding what to do. If you’re any good you’ll make your target ”

Junior Manager: “So that’s how you determine which managers are good – those who achieve their targets?”

Senior Manager: “Of course, we want achievers in this organisation.”

Junior Manager: “What you are saying is that you want people to achieve their targets. But what if people are doing things that ensure they get their target, but which are not good for the organisation?”

Senior Manager: “I expect people to be sensible, I expect them to co-operate. If they don’t it’s my job to knock their heads together”.

Junior Manager: “Well that may be just fine if you know… but often you won’t know that people are doing things just to ‘make target’ because they cover them up”.

Senior Manager: “Give me their names”.

Junior Manager: “I couldn’t do that, in any event we were talking hypothetically. But listen for a moment. I have heard it said that we’d be better off with capability measures instead of targets. Apparently capability measures tell you about what is going on in the work and so help you get to a discussion about method, and when people get focused on method they are more likely to find the means for improvement – that’s what you want isn’t it?”

Senior Manager: “I get my targets, you get your targets. People can discuss all they like, as long as they achieve their targets”.

What a waste of talent – and it is going on everywhere.


New series on partnering

Partnering is all about attitude, and from attitude method follows. A four part series on partnering written for Commerce Magazine has been up-loaded to this web site and is available to download for free.


Lean Service Conference – October 24th 2000

The conference where Vanguard clients talk about the what, how and benefits of lean service.