Getting off the fire truck.

The Lean Enterprise Institute has released a new DVD, "Womack on Lean Management." I haven't watched it yet, but the description alone really got my attention: "When you go in and spend a day with managers and observe what they are doing - even up close to the top - they are busy talking to the customer about things gone wrong, they are busy talking to the supplier about things gone wrong, they are busy talking to operations or design about things gone wrong. Complete instability.

"As a result, the main work of many managers at many levels in companies using 'modern management' systems is constant firefighting."

This really hit home for me. I don't deal with the seriously tough problems that so many lean consultants grapple with, like getting complicated manufacturing or service value streams straightened out. Or, as Jim would say, creating stability in core processes. My work is (in some ways) much simpler: just getting people to spend time on what's actually important to their customers and their company.

But when I see the amount of time squandered on activities that create no value at all, I wonder whether we should first try to create stability in single person processes -- i.e., the stuff that forms the core of value-added managerial work.

I mean, what if directors, managers, and supervisors created stability in the way that they managed their own work? What if they had regular trips to the gemba and regular, repeatable, consistent mentoring? What if they stopped bowing to the holy god of the inbox? What if they stopped kneeling before the almighty 60 minute meeting? What if they applied visual management techniques to their own use of time to help ensure that they actually spent time on the really important stuff?

What if they got off the fire truck for awhile and tried to solve the problems in their own work processes?