We seem to be stuck.

No matter what endeavor you are undertaking, these are words you really don’t want to hear.

Anyone who follows submarine history at all can tell you about one of the most famous groundings in modern history. A Soviet era submarine (Classified Whiskey Class by NATO) found herself on the rocks near the largest Swedish Navy base on October 27, 1981. She found herself no only on the rocks but on the front pages of every newspaper in the free world.


Now it should come as no surprise to anyone that there was probably some amount of espionage going on at the time but the resulting drama certainly left a black mark on the Soviet Submarine Service. Frankly, it was not a good thing to get caught, but much worse to get stuck and need interventions.

Some things to think about. Do you think the submarine had a plan before it left port? Was the equipment designed to support the operation it was assigned to? What could have been different about the crew? Did the environment itself play a role? I can assure you from my limited experience, I don’t think any boat I ever served in left port without all of these in place and a lot more. Yet from time to time things happen you didn’t or couldn’t prepare for.

For those of us who have ever found ourselves “stuck” during the middle of a lean implementation, believe me when I say that the spotlight is harsh and unpleasant. Those who are responsible quickly find out who their supporters and who their detractors are. People often say that success has many parents but failure is an orphan. What should you do if you find yourself in this position?

Probably, the program started out with a lot of fanfare. Announcements were made, key individuals were photographed and published in all of the newsletters. Everything at the start is shiny and new and filled with the promise of what can be. Then, either quietly or with a loud bang, you find the program literally stuck on the rocks. Now what?

First, don’t panic. It is not the first time a major initiative has gotten stuck and it won’t be the last time. For now, just recognize that it is only one place on the timeline and does not have to indicate the end. You should act with a sense of urgency, but don’t let that urgency cancel out your sense of commitment to finding the immediate root cause. Gather the facts as you know them and then gather the key stakeholders.

Those facts will be assembled in a way for the stakeholders to help drive to the real root cause. I normally use an Ishikawa (fishbone) approach since it seems to help visualize the problem much more efficiently. Manpower, methods, machinery, materials and environment are typically the starting point for most session. You can change the categories to encompass the situation but at the completion you should have visualized where the problem is most likely to have started.

Once you have that problem isolated, there are decisions that must be made by the stakeholders. Do you stop and declare victory where you are? Do you put things on hold until another time? Or do you look at your original reason for starting and determine what ended up being missed in the leadership vision or plan?

Experience has shown that there will be times in the implementation where things will go soft for a while. Unless you have someone who has the strength of ten thousand, the leaders of the program will end up losing the vision of the big picture. The way to defeat that is to create a plan that includes stakeholder re-commitment at planned intervals. Since a lean journey can take years if it is done with the methods commonly accepted, that refreshing of commitment may be the best way to maintain the  forward progress.

The session should include a recognition of victories and things that still need work. It should include a review of where the original mark was set and a determination of the relevancy of that goal. Capture the changes in environment to see what may be important to future success. But in all these, be honest with yourself and with your stakeholders. Putting a pretty picture on a garbage can doesn’t change it from being a garbage can.

Create your map. Check your compass. Periodically do reality checks. and for heaven’s sake, if you get lost, ask someone who may know for directions.

Swedish sign for whiskey

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s