Much of the difficulty with change that I see in organizations I visit is related to the inability to adequately plan for change. Poor planning up front results in poor execution with a resultant need to spend time fixing what should have been foreseen in the first place.
Planning is a management function. Before one can plan, however, one needs to understand what it is that is being changed and why. This is where most change planning goes awry.
Japanese firms, like Toyota, front-load their change process by spending, what seems to Western firms, an inordinate amount of time to investigate problems and plan the needed changes. This approach pays huge dividends, however, because when it comes to execution, the right solution to the right cause has been identified and thoroughly planned in terms of implementation. It is rare in firms like Toyota to see an improvement team spending time fixing problems which are due to poor planning.
For the Western mindset, the Japanese approach to change and improvement seems slow and bureaucratic. Western managers like to “get things done” – to impel people into a frenzy of action, no matter whether that course of action is the right one or not.
At Toyota, employees are trained to solve problems in the work and implement solutions in a structured way. The Toyota A3 process provides that structure and guides employees in the think-through of problems and solution implementation. Most importantly, the A3 process shows management that the problem has been thoroughly investigated, and the root cause understood, so that solution planning can be undertaken in confidence. When management is not satisfied that adequate investigation and thinking has been given to a problem at hand, or that the solution developed may not necessarily be the best one, employees are urged to go back and restudy the problem to craft a superior solution
The net result of this approach is that, at Toyota, most change and improvement initiatives consist of Planning and Doing, with no back-end time spent fixing things which should have been caught in the planning process. Sometimes you have to slow down in order to go fast!