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This chapter is from the book

Getting Started: Incremental Integration without "Boiling the Ocean"

Parts II and III of the book provide detailed and specific advice on how to implement a sustainable Lean Integration practice, but before you dig into the details, it is important to understand the approach options and related prerequisites.

There are two fundamental implementation styles for Lean Integration: top-down and bottom-up. The top-down style starts with an explicit strategy with clearly defined (and measurable) outcomes and is led by top-level executives. The bottom-up style, which is sometimes referred to as a "grassroots" movement, is primarily driven by front-line staff or managers with leadership qualities. The top-down approach generally delivers results more quickly but may be more disruptive. You can think of these styles as revolutionary versus evolutionary. Both are viable.

While Lean Integration is relevant to all large organizations that use information to run their business, there are several prerequisites for a successful Lean journey. The following five questions provide a checklist to see if Lean Integration is appropriate to your organization and which style may be most suitable:

  1. Do you have senior executive support for improving how integration problems are solved for the business?

    Support from a senior executive in the organization is necessary for getting change started and critical for sustaining continuous improvement initiatives. Ideally the support should come from more than one executive, at a senior level such as the CXO, and it should be "active" support. You want the senior executives to be leading the effort by example, pulling the desired behaviors and patterns of thought from the rest of the organization.

    It might be sufficient if the support is from only one executive, and if that person is one level down from C-level, but it gets harder and harder to drive the investments and necessary changes as you water down the top-level support. The level of executive support should be as big as the opportunity. Even with a bottom-up implementation style, you need some level of executive support or awareness. At some point, if you don't have the support, you are simply not ready to formally tackle a Lean Integration strategy. Instead, just keep doing your assigned job and continue lobbying for top-level support.

  2. Do you have a committed practice leader?

    The second prerequisite is a committed practice leader. By "committed" we don't mean that the leader needs to be an expert in all the principles and competencies on day one, but the person does need to have the capability to become an expert and should be determined to do so through sustained personal effort. Furthermore, it is ideal if this individual is somewhat entrepreneurial, has a thick skin, is customer-oriented, and has the characteristics of a change agent (see Chapter 6 on team empowerment for more details).

    If you don't have top leadership support or a committed practice leader, there is little chance of success. This is not to suggest that a grassroots movement isn't a viable way to get the ball rolling, but at some point the bottom-up movement needs to build support from the top in order to institutionalize the changes that will be necessary to sustain the shift from siloed operations to integrated value chains.

  3. Is your "Lean director" an effective change agent?

    Having a Lean director who is an effective change agent is slightly different from having one who is "committed." The Lean champion for an organization may indeed have all the right motivations and intentions but simply have the wrong talents. For example, an integrator needs to be able to check his or her ego at the door when going into a meeting to facilitate a resolution between individuals, who have their own egos. Furthermore, a Lean perspective requires one to think outside the box—in fact, to not even see a box and to think of his or her responsibilities in the broadest possible terms. Refer to the section on Change Agent Leadership in Chapter 6 for a description of essential leadership capabilities.

  4. Is your corporate culture receptive to cross-organizational collaboration and cooperation?

    Many (maybe even most) organizations have entrenched views of independent functional groups, which is not a showstopper for a Lean program. But if the culture is one where independence is seen as the source of the organization's success and creativity, and variation is a core element of its strategy, a Lean approach will likely be a futile effort since Lean requires cooperation and collaboration across functional lines. A corporate culture of autonomous functional groups with a strong emphasis on innovation and variation typically has problems implementing Lean thinking.

  5. Can your organization take a longer-term view of the business?

    A Lean strategy is a long-term strategy. This is not to say that a Lean program can't deliver benefits quickly in the short term—it certainly can. But Lean is ultimately about long-term sustainable practices. Some decisions and investments that will be required need to be made with a long-term payback in mind. If the organization is strictly focused on surviving quarter by quarter and does little or no planning beyond the current fiscal year, a Lean program won't achieve its potential.

If you are in an organizational environment where you answered no to one or more of these questions, and you feel compelled to implement a Lean program, you could try to start a grassroots movement and continue lobbying senior leadership until you find a strong champion. Or you could move to another organization. There are indeed some organizational contexts in which starting a Lean program is the equivalent of banging your head against the wall. We hope this checklist will help you to avoid unnecessary headaches.

Lean requires a holistic implementation strategy or vision, but it can be implemented in incremental steps. In fact, it is virtually impossible to implement it all at once, unless for some reason the CEO decides to assign an entire team with a big budget to fast-track the implementation. The idea is to make Lean Integration a long-term sustainable process. When we say "long-term" we are talking about 10 to 20 years, not just the next few years. When you take a long-term view, your approach changes. It certainly is necessary to have a long-term vision and plan, but it is absolutely acceptable, and in many respects necessary, to implement it incrementally in order to enable organizational learning. In the same way, an ICC can start with a small team and a narrow scope and grow it over time to a broad-based Lean Integration practice through excellent execution and positive business results.

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