“Lean, Not Feeble” …. Rethink your choices … some are toxic.

By John Evelyn  |  May 22, 2009  |  Agility,General,Leadership,Resources,Rigidity,Transparency

These are scary times! They make the last scare look like a bump in the road. That’s because it was just a bump in the road! Yet, then things looked scary, budgets had to be cut, programs put on hold, upgrades to capacity and even critical maintenance, deferred. Getting through that moment, we did OK. So, we’ll get better at making these cuts quickly next time around. In fact, everybody knows to find that 10-20% in their budget next time.

This time it looks bad all over. We really need to make a turn in direction, and fast! Our customers are feeling severe pain and unless we can deliver or respond with little notice to changing requirements, our customers won’t make it and …we will tank right behind them. 

“If only we had…….. I wish I had thought about….. We did not have time to really… nor did we?”

There is a wonderful definition that I have found powerful for many years, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Then, what was so surprising that we hit a big or huge bump? What is so surprising that someone initiated a fire drill?

Our greatest challenge in leading an enterprise is more often, what not to do, not what to do. The immediate blurs the essential, and the impacts of change decisions precipitate opportunity costs, that we must evaluate. Will we pay these costs in current execution or in the essential transformation, often in both?


1. How do we determine what is critical to the business or mission?

2. Do we really know what drives failure, real “hurt-the-business” failures? (No brainstorming or reaching into the career nostalgia bag….)

3. What decisions and choices keep the mission and vision moving forward in balance, the YinYang harmony? How can we tell?


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  1. Sam A. says:

    These are pretty thought provoking and I actually walked away from it with an even more interesting idea, how did our organizations become unlean. There is a company called Exigen that used to have the term process cholestrol, and this post started me thinking about this idea of unagility, and unleaness, how do we let the fat sneak into the organization, is it a case of complacenecy or is it a case of business model that drives the just in case behavoir. As to the particular questions raised.

    1)I am not sure we determine what is critical, our customers determine what is critical, one of my favorite insurance executives once said, we don’t have unprofitable products, we have wrong priced products, intersting way to think about it. I think the customer helps us see what they want it is up to us as an organization to determine if we are willing to provide it.

    2) I think we have to look at the innovators dilemma to really understand what drives failure, and I think we will note minus taking on too much risk it really is arrogance and overall love of stability that is not bounded by forward thinking that it could happen to you. There is a great book called Change Without Pain that provides some dialogue around that.

    3)I think the forward looking decisions that keep you one step in tomorrow and one step in today, I think we don’t spend enough time reinventing the process and mousetrap based on the changed understanding of our customers and what they have available to them, it is not cost effective to be risk taking.

    Just some thoughts.

  2. John Evelyn says:

    Customers, in fact, do not determine what is critical to our enterprise… they care only about what they believe they need. The issue is far more difficult than it may seem.
    Without crisp clarity about some of these questions about what truly matters, brainstorming, gut opinions, today’s fires, planning cycles or worse, simplistic spreadsheet weightings will drive decisons about where to invest time and resources for performance, survival and improvement. The problems are not always systemic, except where hard discovery and analysis have been bypassed in favor of “trainable tools and generic exercises” suitable for dispersion or one-size-fits-all workshops.
    Today’s exceptional scarcity of discretionary resources and choices begs that the critical gaps and risks always go to the front of the line. Every hour spent on the non critical has a higher price than we may be accounting for. So a thoughtful discussion on where you want to go and what really constrains or threatens you is never-ending.

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