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Does Process define the Culture? Or Does Culture define the Process?

Richard-San, why are you taking such a simple concept, which is a natural human attribute based and developing a complex training model? You should not need to train people about common sense.

This statement was uttered to myself and Mariela as we sat in our backyard reviewing an experiential training module Mariela and her team had developed about the attributes of 5S.

Our Sensei had stunned us.

We quickly rationalized and justified the training module that common sense is uncommon in existing enterprises and to introduce a new concept would be a challenge. He decided to disagree but would later regret his opinion.

I will admit that I learned more about the Toyota Production System post Toyota Employment than while operating within the Toyota environment.

Before being allowed to venture into production areas I spent weeks sitting in the classroom being educated about the various attributes of the Production System, how it defined culture, how we needed to understand the culture and respect the culture. By the time we were allowed to enter production areas we were mentally prepared.

The point is Culture was programmed into our DNA and this constantly drove us to improve our processes. If a process was running well, let us change the tolerances to identify new concerns, fix them and have the process run better. Gemba walks did not exist, they were more like Gemba shuffles looking closely at operations and operators on how we could reduce adjustments and if adjustments were required how many tools would be required. The ideal was using only one hand and a 13mm wrench.

The culture so much drove the process that when the process was replicated here in North America for every six local hires one Japanese assignee was allocated. We were immersed into an environment where we just followed the disciplines invoked and developed as the Toyota Production System … we knew no better.

Similar, when my son was initially employed by McDonalds, due to their laser focus on Standardization of every process, there was absolutely minimal latitude to imprint your personal style. If there was you were quickly reminded: “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean”.

In both cases Process defined the Culture.

Today according to a survey 98% of Leaders are leading new teams and even if it has the same players the rules and processes have changed. This is also a great time to really ponder and a great opportunity to enhance your thinking, processes and eliminate paradigms.

In Enterprise Value Stream Mapping we typically want to plot at least 3 Maps,

  • Current State: capturing the current activities as being that it is what it is.

  • Future State: what can I do and change with existing resources in less than a year max (this should never include software changes since this will become the wonder drug that will fail to deliver).

  • Ultimate State: a clean piece of paper, no paradigms, money is not a problem - create that perfect ultimate process, hopefully even fully automated.

I argue that many organizations cannot truly dream of or define an Ultimate State due to paradigm or they allow existing culture to cloud potential Processes.

So remember our Sensei who at the start of this article commented to me:

Richard-San, why are you taking such a simple concept, which is a natural human attribute based and developing a complex training model. You should not need to train people about common sense”

He was in California working with NUMMI when he had a epiphany. If TPS could work in the assembly plants then the same principals could be applied and work in dealerships! He was excited about the idea and of course phoned me right away to share his thoughts.

After experiencing Radio Silence for several months I reached out to him to see how his experiment was performing.

He explained that for the most part several methodologies were working for him but the people culture attribute was a huge challenge that he had still failed to overcome. I asked him to explain.

His Vision was that any Lexus scheduled or regular service with up to 100,000 miles would be inducted, processed and returned to the customer within 20 minutes. This included being cleaned and detailed. He had created a model that would use Quad mechanics, where a mechanic would be stationed at each quadrant of the vehicle to perform the necessary tasks (note that he also wanted to be able to perform a complete brake system overhaul if required within that time allocation). In addition to standard tasks each quadrant mechanic would have additional skills: one would be the leader regarding electrical, another perhaps fluid systems, another of vehicle HVAC - but all of the talent and resources would have to synchronize to get all of the task completed within the time allotted.

So how did it go?

Well, the induction technicians did a 95% complete and accurate of identifying what needed to be done and the items that would be required and the parts department was able to kit the necessary parts per order. Pre-Determined Bus Routes were established within the dealership to deliver the goods as required. A post work audit (QC) was established and even the customer was processed while waiting. Hydrated, updated with new products and services and in anticipation billing was processed. It all sounded good, but...

The mechanics did not want to play nice together. Each mechanic was concerned about their potential liability should something go wrong, or a discrepancy found after completion. They remained committed that in their profession they naturally assumed full responsibility and liability for repairs performed. Personal Pride and a lack of Trust allowed the culture to determine the process and the experiment was deemed a failure.

In another situation we experienced a similar circumstance while working with the collision repair industry. In that industry a body technician is typically working on six vehicles concurrently and will refuse to assume work started by another technician. Again, culture defined the process. Indeed, they were able to improve the process as it existed but were unable to dramatically alter the process until...

A new repair process was first designed, defined, and documented. Employees were hired that had no prior exposure to the industry and asked to perform within the new process and VOLIA!!! The cycle time was reduced from days to mere hours.

So as we embrace the attributes of our new teams and working conditions it is also an opportune time to challenge.

Does Process define your Culture?


Does Culture define your Process?

We have been through a lot of changes so going the extra distance is only going to make your organization stronger, more flexible and nimbler and accountable.



We do more than just blog. We're active Lean practitioners who would love to help you achieve your productivity goals.

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