Strategy+Business has an interview with Jeffrey Liker, one of the academics who have studied the Toyota Production System (Lean) in great detail. Jeffrey Liker: The Thought Leader Interview. There are a lot of great thoughts in the article. The thing that stands out to me is the discussion of why it doesn't stick. The gist seems to be that if you don't have the right temperament, then transformation can't happen - or it can't stick.
<Insert dubious "Hrmmmm" here.>
On one hand, I can certainly see where he's coming from. I've seen it myself: implement something that clearly helps; walk away; come back and see that it is either no longer working or it has been ignored and other priorities have taken over (the shiny new thing problem). However, I have seen companies take a hold of improvement ideas and make excellent progress.
On the other hand, the whole point of the Toyota Production System is that it is a way of operating that extends beyond "flavor of the month." It is a mindset that everyone holds. The same goes for Theory of Constraints: while there are specific tools from ToC, the overall approach is a mindset and view of business that stresses throughput (as in producing what people are buying). The "shiny new things" are to be evaluated in terms of this mindset - do they fit with the strategy of the company. Here is what Liker says about this:
The Toyota way is ingrained in its people’s attitudes; they are not just trained, but habituated to tackle problems through observation and experimentation. They know how to grasp the current situation, come up with a vision, and plot a step-by-step course to that vision, recognizing the need for adjustment along the way. The Toyota system, in other words, is a mind-set rooted in practicality and realism.
So, maybe I am not so dubious. Any change like this must make sense for the company - not just a few executives, the whole company. It is people everywhere who make decisions everyday. But the caution is that change can happen - it can be a one off that doesn't go anywhere, or it can be the starting point for a larger transformation.
There are a lot of other great points for consideration in the interview too: manual vs electronic kanban; learning organizations; Wiremold as an example of failure to maintain the mindset; the danger of knowing; etc. Have a look.
[Photo: "Hands" by Riccardo Cuppin]