Sand Castle Maintenance
How long will a sand castle keep its shape? Wind, rain, and waves will take their toll and soon there will be no visible sign that the castle ever existed.
Like everything else people make, sand castles decay and fall apart.
I’ve used the sand castle image to describe the challenge of sustaining improvements—without some extra work, the sand castle won’t retain its form. That’s just a prosaic illustration of the second law of thermodynamics.
Jim Lancaster elevates the sand castle image to the heart of his message in a new book, The Work of Management: A Daily Path to Sustainable Improvement, LEI, 2017 (https://www.lean.org/Bookstore/ProductDetails.cfm?SelectedProductId=410#tabAnchor).
Lancaster describes the system of daily management he deployed at his company, named the Walk Around Review (WAR), this way: “…WAR was both sand castle maintenance and people development for everyone at every level.” (p. 103)
Let’s focus on the sand castle part of WAR.
Lancaster uses the sand castle image to embody the fragile nature of production processes—the people, conditions, equipment, material, and information that are supposed to come together regularly to produce a product or service.
With sand castles, you expect erosion.
You should have the same expectation for your production processes. Conditions change, equipment malfunctions, expected information may be incomplete, new people take part in the work.
What can you do to keep your sand castle intact?
Lancaster’s answer: daily maintenance is the only way to keep standards and improvement from eroding and then disappearing without a trace. He describes the methods he and his management team use to take a daily pulse of production, coach people to sharpen problem-solving tools, and to identify barriers that only managers can tackle. The reviews integrate seamlessly with a daily rhythm of Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles in each department.
Aligned with Juran’s insight on the difference between quality control and quality improvement e.g. in this post from a year ago, Lancaster also distinguishes maintenance from improvement—taking the system to a substantially different performance level. He makes a compelling case for sand-castle maintenance as the basis for truly effective improvement—Jim and his team now have a method to hold the gains from specific improvement projects that in almost all organizations decay over time.