Monday, September 5, 2011

The Purpose of True North

By Al Norval,

Many companies as they implement Lean and go through a Lean transformation, develop a continuous improvement system modelled after the “Toyota Production System”. These come in all kinds of names and formats ranging from …Production System to … Business System and all manner of variations in between. Often these are just a collection of tools and other stuff and really don’t make up a true system.

If we zoom out and look at the definition of a system, we see that a system can be defined as:

“an inter-related set of parts with a clearly defined outcome”

So the parts of a system are all connected to one another and have to fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. Standardized Work needs to have 5S and Visual Controls in place for it to work. Without them, we could never get repeatable cycles of work. We would be endlessly searching for things. Even with them, there are many interruptions and disruptions to the standard cycles of work which we need to turn into problems and launch problem solving.

So we can see how the parts of a system are related to one another but what about the purpose? A system must have a clearly defined purpose. True North gives us that purpose.

True North defines the outcomes of the system and where we want the system to take us in the future. In essence it pulls us into the future.

True North defines the Philosophical and Strategy Objectives of the organization. It is comprised of two parts:

- Hard Goals that speak to the head and define the hard business targets

- Broadbrush Hoshins that speak to the heart and define direction, purpose and values

Together these are deployed through the organization to align and focus the organization. An analogy I like to use is one of river. The river flows to the ocean which is True North. The broadbrush Hoshins define the banks of the river. The river can take many paths to get to the ocean but we want it to remain inside it’s banks. Along the way it encounters rapids which are problems which must be resolved for the journey to the ocean to continue but all the time the river continues to flow to the ocean.

For more on True North and Lean Leadership, please see Lean Leadership Brain Boosters at

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