What a shame
My friend is far from alone. In our annual LEI web survey of the Lean Community, a leading problem Lean Thinkers always note about their improvement efforts is "backsliding to old ways of working" after initial progress.
And the most frequently cited issue this year is "middle management resistance" to change.
In short, the lean movement has a sustainability issue we now need to address.
What is at the heart of our sustainability problem? More important, what can we do about it?
I believe that the root cause of regression in most organisations today is confusion about priorities at different levels of the organisation compounded by the failure to make anyone responsible for the performance of important value streams as they flow horizontally across the enterprise.
To prevent regression, someone needs to periodically clarify priorities for each value stream and identify the performance gap between what the customer needs and what the value stream is providing.
The person taking responsibility then needs to engage everyone touching the value stream in carefully capturing the current condition (the "current state") of the value stream which is causing the gap.
The next step is to envision a better value stream and determine who will need to do what by when to bring it into being.
Finally, the value stream leader needs to determine what will constitute evidence that the performance gap has been closed and collect the data to demonstrate this.
This exercise is, of course, nothing but Dr. Deming's Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle conducted repetitively by the responsible person, ideally employing A3 analysis.
I'm not proposing a dramatic change in the organization chart to reassign authority.
Indeed, I've hardly ever seen an organisation improved by a "re-organization".
And I'm not suggesting the creation of a matrix organization where everyone has a vertical and a horizontal boss.
Rather, during the transition to a mature lean organisation, someone with another job in the organisation needs to take on the role of periodically (and quickly) auditing the horizontal flow of value and bringing to the attention of everyone touching the stream how the organization is performing along that stream.
Note that periodic audits of processes within small areas (for example, a continuous-flow work cell or a materials replenishment process) are a well established aspect of Toyota practices that I call "standard management".
So auditing across departments and functions to examine value stream from end to end is a scaling up of current best practice, not something wholly new.