He’s big, jolly, and for better or worse he’s the true symbol of the holiday season. Santa Claus has perhaps the most bizarre demand schedule of any industry – 364 days of no deliveries but one astronomical one in December.
Despite his cartoonish girth and unusual delivery method (you know, the sleigh and those reindeer) he has a few things to teach us about lean.
Sometimes it requires a little bit of faith in the process. “Oh, there’s no way Santa can deliver to three billion homes in one night!” is on the same line of thought as “Oh, that will never work for us – our process is different.” Sometimes the end results of lean efforts (and Santa’s deliveries) are hard to visualize early on, but trusting the process will pay off in the end.
Big changes are possible – but it takes a lot of help along the way. Sure, Santa has that one huge night but he spends his 364 days preparing for it. He doesn’t do it alone, of course. His elves, his reindeer…and his end customers’ parents… all play a big part. Leaders can’t make change all by themselves. Process users, stakeholders, and performance goals all play a part in driving improvements. Use their ideas, as they’re the ones who know the most about the current state of the processes.
Always have a roadmap and a plan, and follow it. Companies need to use performance goals, process maps, and value streams to identify opportunities to reduce gaps in performance and to prioritize what improvements will occur with available resources. Santa has three billion houses to visit in one night – he can’t afford to waste time on making a wrong turn in Africa and dilly-dallying in Antarctica too long.
Alignment of resources is paramount. Elves need to know what toys to build. The reindeer must all pull in the same direction to maximize sleigh velocity. Stakeholders and process users knowing their roles and following directions will help achieve big results faster so that more projects can be completed.
Start with the end goal in mind. Continuous improvement projects work best when the focus is on the end customer and teams institute improvements by moving further and further upstream. Santa starts his year with his customer forecast (toys for three billion homes) and aligns resources and schedules projects accordingly.
Rewarding those who are helping make things better is critical. Just like Santa receives his milk and cookies at each house he visits, encouragement through support and rewards for process users keeps them going too. They’re making a sacrifice to make your situation better – do what you can to return the favor.