Revisiting The Burning Platform

The Burning Platform

The burning platform has long been part of the lore of Lean, often cited as a necessary catalyst for Lean transformation. But the burning platform (usually, a financial crisis) has always been a grossly insufficient context for Lean transformation.

Keep in mind that we see one corporate financial crisis after another where top leaders ignore Lean management and instead turn to the trusted, traditional methods of recovery from the classical management playbook.

Therefore, additional context is necessary and includes:

A top a leader:

  • Willing to change their thinking
  • Willing to get their hands dirty
  • Who trusts employees; the workers
  • Is willing to teach and train the new management system
  • Who is willing to share improved financial performance with employees
  • Who reads and thoughtfully experiments with what they learned
  • Who is less interested in social status
  • Does cares little about what their CEO peer leaders think
  • Who is driven by doing good work more than personal gain or status

And a senior management team:

  • That is aligned with the CEOs vision and corporate, business, and operating strategies.

And followers:

  • Willing to trust their new leader and forget about all the lousy leaders from the past
  • Who are no longer interested in the status quo
  • Willing to learn new ways of thinking and doing things
  • Willing to try out their ideas and experiment creatively
  • Who can transition from individuality to teamwork
  • Who are flexible in job type and assignment
  • Who enjoy challenges to develop their skills and capabilities

And a Board of Directors:

  • That is willing to go along

And, finally:

  • A need that transcends mere financial difficulties

Only rarely have these conditions been met. The above conditions are all necessary — even without a burning platform (fundamentally there is no need for a crisis to transition from classical management to Lean). But we know from vast experience that the required leadership is much harder to come by than the other required conditions.

The evidence of what can be done with Lean management, if it is properly understood and executed (i.e., closely modeled after TPS/TW) — with or without a burning platform — is overwhelming.

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