Throughout my extensive career I have seen a lot of companies from the inside, met a lot of managers and employees, observed a lot of processes and operations, and I still learn new things every day.  Access to information has never been greater than what it is today.  Books, articles, blogs and various forms of social media are full of examples of what works, what doesn’t work, and how to change to do better.  Many best practices have emerged and some like Lean have withstood the test of time having.  Yet, why are some similar companies successful while others struggle?  Why are some companies able to leverage well established tools and techniques such as Lean for great results while others get marginal results?  As an experienced Lean consultant, why does it work great for some clients and not so well with others?  Clearly there are many factors that contribute to the answers to these questions, but as I reflect over the years some themes seem important that I would like to discuss and share.

Effort vs Success

I truly believe that effort and success are positively related, but in my work observations and even in general everyday life observations, I wonder if we have lost focus on their causality and priority.  As a golfer, I know that practice can help lower my scores.  Like most things, golf can be broken down into foundational elements or segments such as driving distance, driving accuracy, greens in regulation, sand saves or recoveries, putts and even more.  Practice can be purposefully targeted to improve specific segments, which should improve scoring overall.  Practice without a purpose is much less effective.  It may generally help somewhat and check the “practice time” box, but unless you are just lucky, it likely won’t improve or correct specific issues that are preventing better golf scores.  In other words, purposeful practice can drive results or success while practice without purpose is simply a less effective use of “effort”.

In my consulting, I see the same effort versus success dynamic among my clients.  I have seen many examples of clients who have claimed to have embraced and implemented 5S in their facility or warehouse, but when I tour their operations, it is clear they have only done some of the steps (the first 3 S’s: Sort, Set-in-Order, Shine) by name and failed to embrace it fully (the last two S’s: Standardize and Sustain).  It’s amazing to hear company leaders and managers use the Lean jargon and share their Lean knowledge while in the background their company or department is not “walking the walk” and it is reflected in the results.  In my experience, more focus and attention are often placed on following an outline and checking the boxes that reflect “effort”, but then fail to hold accountability for “successful results.”  Similarly, I see where “effort” was placed at a high intensity level in the beginning of the initiative, but over time the energy level wains.  It is so common to see Lean implementation examples where “effort” was making an early positive difference but by not focusing on the target results of success, they lose momentum and focus and come us short.  So often by stopping short of success, the effort takes its toll on the organization and they lose faith it will work or is worth more investment.

If you think about it a little more, the relationship between effort and success are programmed into our lives at an early age.  In school, students are asked to spend some number of hours every day studying, piano lessons are 1 hour long, once every week, saying you did your assigned chores meant afterwards you could watch TV.  So much of this focus is on “effort” and not success.  Again, that is not to say that purposeful effort or the reinforcement of winning behaviors don’t have value, but the key to success is to be “purposeful” and “results” focused.  We can’t lose sight of that and become satisfied with unqualified effort.

Effort is fuel burned, while success is miles traveled and places visited.

Effort is hours of study while success is grade achievement and knowledge learned.

Effort is working up a sweat in practice, while success is effective practice that targets a contributing factor resulting in a win and a job well done.

Ok so what can we do about it?  First, let me share some signs to be aware of that might indicate you have potential challenges to address.  Consider the following statements and how closely they describe your company or department.

  • Too many measures, goals and objectives that make it difficult to truly be successful at any one
  • A project is very important and a high priority, until it isn’t, which can happen frequently
  • High level programs or initiatives are segmented within the organization and are not consistent or homogeneous throughout causing incomplete buy in and confusion
  • Performance measures are more “check list” focused versus results oriented
  • General ambiguity or a lack of accountability and ownership for results
  • Poor communications and visibility of performance

Keep in mind, you can apply these statements to the business overall, or to a subset department, and or even to a project or initiative.  For example, as a Lean consultant, I am reflecting on these statements relative to Lean implementations with clients and why we might be struggling to help them achieve the full benefit of a Lean project.

What can you do to change from “effort” to “success” focused?

If some or all of these statements resonate, and you are struggling to attain the results you are seeking, then consider the following:

  1. Focus on important stuff (not everything) and set smart goals.  So often companies try to do too many things at one time and thus struggle to do anything very well.  Stephen Covey has written about this many times with his focus on Wildy Important Goals (WIGs).  It is better to prioritize and focus, and drive some wins, than to fail broadly and burn up the organization in the process. Once you prioritize and identify what is most important, then set SMART (acronym) goals:
    1. Specific
    2. Measurable
    3. Achievable
    4. Relevant
    5. Timely
  2. Related to the SMART goals above, I want to emphasize that the measures must be “results based” and not “effort” based.
  3. Promote open and consistent communications throughout the organization.  Leverage the SMART goals and the measured results by ensuring they are broadly understood by everyone.
  4. Open and consistent communications with SMART goals can promote teamwork with transparent accountability.  Rewards and praise should be results oriented and not effort oriented and if employee A is able to accomplish a desired result in a fraction of the time (effort measure) than employee B, we praise employee A and leverage what we learn to help employee B.
  5. Related to SMART goals, communications and accountability, learn from failures.  While failure is clearly not our goal, promoting a culture that makes learning from failure a valuable lesson can be powerful.  Acknowledging that failure can be a consequence of aggressively trying new ideas can be key to helping employees embrace a culture of being more open to innovation.
  6. Balance patience and intensity.  The organization can’t sprint all the time, but you don’t want to stroll and lose momentum either.  To avoid stopping before you reach the goal, balance patience and intensity so the organization doesn’t run out of gas.  Balancing patience and intensity can go hand in hand with prioritization of goals to maintain a safe and strong pace for change and growth, and to avoid organizational burnout.

In our consulting practice, especially during the Assessment phase, we (consultants) need to remind ourselves to consider these factors when developing and facilitating projects.  When we see potential red flags, we need to apply these ideas as part of our Assessment recommendations.

If your company is not achieving the expected results from your initiatives and management efforts, perhaps you need to be less “effort” focused and instead be more “success” focused for better results.

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George Edinger, President, C&R Mechanical
“Myerson engaged Supply Velocity, specifically Ray Davis to visit our plant in Trinidad to conduct a two day assessment of our production procedures and provide us feedback on areas for improvement and where applicable, areas for future analysis.

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The get-into-action approach was good for our culture.”

Ned Lane, President, CeeKay Supply
“For several years we have worked with Supply Velocity to support us with their expertise on Lean Operations and Supply Chain Management. Supply Velocity has helped us implement Lean, improve our inventory systems, and educate our people. They are professionals who are always available to help us as needed.”
Lorenza Pasetti, CEO, Volpi Foods

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Jane Thrasher, Vice President of Supply Chain, Horizon Hobby
“Many thanks to all three Supply Velocity presenters. I think you guys took a very difficult time for learning and capitalized on everyone’s time and training needs. I truly hope this helps your business as this was a considerable undertaking on the part of Supply Velocity. Outstanding!!”
Mark Holdinghausen, VP of Operations, DEMA Engineering
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Geoff Gross, President, Gross Mechanical
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Jeff Lazaroff, Senior Vice President, Clean Uniform
“In 2015 we began working with Dr. Mitch Millstein to optimize our inventory locations supporting e-commerce and in-store inventory needs. From this work we developed a new omni-channel warehousing and inventory plan that entirely redefined our approach to warehousing, inventory management, store distribution and fulfillment. As a result of the analyses by Dr. Millstein we have begun the move to an improved omni-channel design by reassigning MSAs to new warehouses, greater leveraging of in-store inventories to satisfy e-commerce demands, and exploring acquisitions of new warehousing space in strategic locations. We have already seen an improvement of $300,000 from both more efficient shipping strategies due to better inventory management.”
Rob Bowers, Vice President of Strategy, Total Hockey
“Our experience with Supply Velocity was one of the best values we have ever had from a consulting project. Cyril Narishkin brought a structured lean methodology, invaluable experience and engaging facilitation skills to help us streamline a very complex and disjointed sales order process. Just as importantly, our team now has the knowledge and process competencies to address other business improvement opportunities going forward.”
Mike Howard, CEO, Aspeq

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Fred Kostecki, Partner-In-Charge, Assurance Services, Rubin Brown
“Anheuser-Busch Precision Printing had been implementing Lean Operations on our own for the past two years. We needed to move faster and partnered with Supply Velocity, Inc. Through Supply Velocity, Inc.’s mathematical workflow balancing and visual management tools, dramatic improvements were achieved. The entire converting operation was rearranged based on Lean principles. The result is a 20.6% productivity improvement, enabling us to operate with 23 fewer people in production.”
Rich Lavosky, General Manager, Anheuser-Busch Precision Printing
“In thirty years of hiring consultants, Supply Velocity, Inc. was the first to tell me what they were going to do, set a price they stuck to and substantially exceed my expectations. I have recommended them to friends and acquaintances. They were true partners in assisting with the turnaround of an acquisition we had been struggling with for two years.

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Bill Gilbert, President, Fusion Coatings
“We are using Supply Velocity’s Lean Six Sigma methods to analyze a variety of processes including rationalizing SKUs (stock-keeping-units). By using math to evaluate SKUs we took some of the emotion out of our decisions. We expect significant increases in sales and productivity from reducing poor performing SKUs.”
Mark Kelso, Director of Process Improvement, Save-A-Lot

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Josh Cole, Director of Supply Chain, Crescent Parts & Equipment
“Supply Velocity is driving instrumental change in our inventory management processes. This is critical for us to be competitive in a supply chain environment with numerous disruptions. They are making change happen, which can be challenging in a 182 year old organization.”
Jim Carroll, Executive Vice President Operations, Schaeffer Manufacturing
“The role of the Erie Insurance Marketing Department has been evolving over the past several years – from a support role to a more critical role of driving growth in our organization. Because of our increased workload and desire to prioritize the most critical projects, we hired Supply Velocity to teach us the skills of Lean Six Sigma.

Participants included the Promotions, Market Research and Agency Licensing sections of the Marketing Department.

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Karen Rugare, Director of Marketing, Erie Insurance
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Haris Tokalic, President, Grand Rock, Inc.
“We are pleased that Essex selected Supply Velocity, Inc. as our Lean Implementation Partner. At one facility, we have saved over $350,000 in work-in-process inventory, reduced throughput time from 2 weeks to minutes and increased inventory turns 3 to 8 times per year. All these results are in just 6 months. Our return of investment is very high.”
Terry Etter, Vice President of Operations , Essex Medical Systems
“We engaged with Supply Velocity to help us embed process improvement at all levels of the business. Our team learned from Mitch to let the data drive decisions, to use Lean tools to help us see our processes critically and objectively, and to create a control plan to manage all of the tasks that were the outcome of the data study.

The project turned out to be very significant to the company and most importantly, our customers. We reduced our customer wait times by 40%, and cut in half the labor cost to fulfill customer orders.

Some results are not able to be measured. However, as a result of this project, we have started to build a Lean mindset and culture, which is part of our strategic mission to save our customers money. Supply Velocity has been a valued partner in this mission.”

Dionne Dumitru, COO, Weekends Only
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Rachel Andreasson, Executive Vice President – Marketing, Wallis Companies
“Isolating a problem, finding short, and long term solutions with measurable results is what was promised and results is what was delivered by Supply Velocity. Upon launch of the Lean Six Sigma Selling System, we knew more about our customers, our products, and were able to create a solid plan to increase sales of our most profitable products. Within months of implementation, our booked sales jumped 60% and our most valued customers were getting direct, active, and calculable attention.”
Mark A. Presker, General Manager, Architectural Millwork of St. Louis