Visioning for the Lean organization

November 27, 2012
in Lean

Ask any CEO and they’ll tell you having a compelling corporate vision helps teams align and drives awareness and understanding of where the organization wants to be long-term.

So given the power of visioning in propelling companies forward, why do so many organizations not use this technique more broadly? We’ve done so at First West and found it can easily be applied to operational areas of the business, like process reengineering, for example. Because visioning can be applied to day-to-day scenarios, it’s a powerful component of Lean. Here’s how it works.

Set the Stage

  1. Choose a single business process, deliverable, or event. For example, producing an annual report, organizing a company retreat, or simply cutting costs in a specific category.
  2. Book a 1-2 hour meeting exclusively dedicated to visioning. Ensure the room has ample whiteboard space or a few flip charts.
  3. Invite 5-8 people, the right people:
    • The sponsor/business owner whose buy-in is key to making changes and influencing others to support change within your organization.
    • Those who have created, and work most closely with, things as they are today.
    • Customers or users – these may be internal or external.
    • At least one innovative thinker who has only peripheral involvement. This individual’s purpose is to bring fresh eyes and challenge the group to think differently.
    • Identify a facilitator to lead the session.

Hold the Session
Divide the session into three equal segments.

  1. Ultimate vision. If there were no constraints, what could this process/event/deliverable look like in 2-3 years?
    • Document ideas, uncensored in clear view of participants.
    • Make a conscious effort not to consider obstacles, resource requirements, or reasons why 'it just won’t work.'
  2. Current state. How are things now? Consider the process/event/deliverable as it exists today. Consider its true value, impact, simplicity, quality, time and effort to produce, even its relevance.
    • As in the prior step, document these observations, uncensored in clear view of participants.
    • Make a conscious effort to keep the conversation focused on the process and the outcome, versus the people involved. It's important for the facilitator to keep the session positive and productive, avoiding the temptation to descend into complaint mode.
  3. Future state. How can we direct our activities to move from the current state to the future state?
    • What changes can be made in the next 6-12 months that will move us towards our ultimate vision?
    • As in the prior step, document these suggested next steps, uncensored in clear view of participants. For those changes that resonate with the group, make every effort to assign ownership for moving each forward.
  4. Next steps.
    • Hold a 5-minute standing Hansei. Ask participants what they enjoyed about the visioning exercise process, followed by what could be improved, and finally, who needs help in moving their commitments forward.
    • Circulate meeting notes to all participants for their reflection and to use in any subsequent sessions on the topic.

The purpose of an ultimate visioning exercise is not to come up with a detailed action plan or even to reach consensus on where things are, or where they are going (though, surprisingly, this may happen in some cases).  The purpose is to step away from performing the process long enough to consider what it could look like with no constraints, how to incrementally enhance it, or perhaps to stop doing it altogether.

Act on vision
For Lean organizations, the next step usually involves organizing a kaizen blitz event. For others, the simple act of focusing on this process may lead to decisive actions and improvements. Whatever the case, there must be intentional actions taken to get to the point of actually making an improvement. Ideas and designs must get off the white board and onto the shop floor. Something must be implemented. Failure to implement robs visioning and related methods and tools of their value.

What’s been your experience using visioning with Lean in your organization? I’d like to hear from you. Comment below or connect with me via Twitter or LinkedIn.

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