Prepare for lean like Mike Tyson

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Every journey begins with a plan, or at least it should. Being clear on a destination is simply not enough. It’s critical to also ensure you prepare for the journey (What tools will you need?), the route you will take (Do you want the scenic route or the express lane?) and the best mode of transport (How quickly do you want to reach your destination?).

Yes, it’s all about the plan. Or is it?

Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth.” At the risk of sounding pessimistic, it’s highly likely you’ll feel like you’ve been punched in the mouth a few times along your lean journey.

That said, with the right training, mindset and planning, we can all take a few punches without it hindering our title shot. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you formulate a highly detailed plan, but you should spend some time considering a few key aspects of your journey before you set sail.

Whether you have been integrating lean for some time or you are just commencing your journey, you’ll find the following steps helpful relative to preparing for the best, while still being ready to take a punch and remain standing.

Step 1: Understand where value exists. I find it’s typical for a company to start its lean journey by first addressing pain points. These points are often bottlenecks or cultural obstacles that limit the performance of the business, the ability to best serve customers or generally seem to be a black hole as it pertains to lost revenue or extensive overhead. This is the wrong approach. The right approach is to begin by understanding how your business or a division within the business adds value to the customer. It’s from this assessment that the most important bottlenecks (those that hinder your ability to quickly and effectively serve the customer) are identified, and it’s these areas that will yield the most significant return on your investment in lean if you start here.

Step 2: Planning the three T’s: Once have a clear understanding of where you want to target your lean efforts, the next logical step is to assess each area relative to the three T’s, which are:

  • What tools in your lean toolbox will likely be the most effective at quickly achieving your objectives?
  • Who are the team members best suited to support and participate in the application of the tools?
  • How much time is necessary to achieve your desired results in each specific area?

It’s through assessing the three T’s that you can quickly formulate a plan that consists of target areas, resources necessary and the best approaches to achieve your desired outcomes quickly.

Step 3: Socialize Your Plan: It’s one thing to create a plan that engages others; it’s something else to engage those in the making of the plan. Consider that your plan for improving the performance of the business needs to gain the attention and support of senior leaders, middle managers, supervisors, employees and possibly even customers and suppliers. Once you have a plan of attack, the next step is to socialize the plan to obtain feedback. By engaging in dialogue and obtaining and incorporating (where it makes sense to do so) the feedback of others, you gain social consensus and commitment to achieving your plan — regardless of whether you incorporate all of the feedback or not. The plan quickly becomes “our idea” rather than “your idea.”

Step 4: The Agile Launch: Remaining concrete on your plan is the worst possible approach and is likely to result in disappointment. Every plan has its faults, and every situation comes with a few unexpected punches to the mouth. Launching your plan will no doubt have some bumps and bruises, but by remaining agile and flexible, you will quickly overcome, re-chart your direction or adjust your expectations.

So there you have it. Four steps to launching (or re-launching) your lean journey while being prepared for the inevitable “few shots to the mouth” that you are likely to take along the way. On the other hand, you could simply enter the ring swinging with no real plan of action, but your chances of winning the title and achieving your objectives are significantly less likely.

Just ask Mike Tyson.

Shawn Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Company, Incorporated, a management consultancy helping organizations globally to improve organizational performance and build financial strength. Learn more at or follow Casemore on Twitter @ShawnCasemore.