E6S-030: Burning Platform: Light it. Sell it. Jump In!

Intro:  Welcome to the E6S-Methods podcast with Jacob and Aaron, your source for expert advice on Lean, Six Sigma, and performance improvement methods. In this episode number 30 we discuss the burning platform, as compelling story to get early project momentum: Light it. Sell it. Jump In! We also show an example of how to convert a boring problem statement into a compelling, meaningful story. Here we go. 


*** Light it. Sell it. Jump In!***                                                                               

Objection: Why should I have to sell my team on this? They need to just play along.…

Counter: The project manager needs to be a constant advocate and main salesperson for the project.  Remember "Sell, Sell, Sell" is a key project manager/Black Belt responsibility.  The burning platform is an effective tactic to get early momentum.

Objection: No need for a welcome letter, I'll just schedule a meeting.…                                                                Counter: Team members are already unsure about their role in a project, how they can help, and how this will impact them.  A strong welcome messages tells them you've taken control and have a plan, and ensures them that their participation is in the best interest of the company. It also gives them the pride of being a part of something bigger than their normal routine.                                                                                

I            Origins of the "burning platform"                 

a.       Tell story- Metaphor from an ocean oil drilling platform.  The rig is on fire and you have the choice of staying on the platform or jumping 100 feet down into the ocean.  Staying means certain death.  Jumping, while extremely daunting, gives you a chance at life.

b.       Cite references

i.      http://www.problem-solving-techniques.com/Burning-Platform.html          

ii.      Anti “burning platform” but pro “compelling story”—semantics--- very long justification for view http://www.xonitek.com/press-room/company-news/real-leaders-never-say-burning-platform/

iii.     Claimant to the founder of the burning platform story… encourages readers to not take the “disaster” so literally.      http://www.connerpartners.com/series/the-burning-platform         

II         How to translate the problem statement into the bigger picture.                 

a.       Project Definintion (Example)

i.      Problem Statement: According to plant management, the 2009 “OTD” metrics did not meet quality standards and were declining in Q4.  As 2010 volumes increase, the situation is expected to worsen, negatively impacting customer satisfaction and over-time work.

ii.      Objective: Analyze the value stream, identify process waste and determine actions to improve process throughput time from order entry through shipping.

b.       Example of a burning platform letter, compared to the Problem & Objective Statement.    You can read the full letter below:

i.      Main message: “You have already seen the impact of inaction.  If we continue to not address this, we expect it to get worse, and in order to maintain our current level of comfort, we need to act now.  You are important to this cause. Please join in.”

Subject:  Six Sigma Lean Kaizen Event – Value-Stream Mapping in AB-Processes

Dear Colleague,

You are invited to participate in week-long kaizen event, March 8-12, 2010, in cooperation with Customer-X.  During this time you will become familiar with the “value stream.”  By the end of the week, you will identify key improvement opportunities to further reinforce our company’s excellent operational foundation, solidifying our business as we head through 2010 and into 2011.

2009 proved to be a very trying year for our company.  During the beginning of the year volumes dropped too low to maintain headcount.  As the year progressed, volumes began returning, yet for business reasons, headcount remained unchanged.  On-time delivery and first pass yield metrics became sporadic and on a gradual decline.  By the end of 2009, each operator in the area, (including shipping/receiving), was doing the equivalent work of 1 ¼ operators, (compared with 2008).  On our current trends, to maintain quality in the face of the customer, the expected load each operator will need to do will continue to increase. For 2010, volumes in SC are again expected to rise another 10%, primarily in small package sizes, which puts the bulk of excess work on workers in packaging, labeling, bar-coding and material handling areas (shipping, receiving) of the company.  Unfortunately, adding significant headcount to our workforce for a potential 10% in extra business will kill our profitability and put our market leadership in jeopardy.

This is the harsh reality in a competitive business.  To remain competitive in the market, (keep all our jobs), and prosper in our own lives, action is critical, and the time to act is now. You are a key person to affect the necessary changes to our West Haven operations.  Please respond to me as soon as possible to confirm your participation.  We will meet a couple times prior to the event to make necessary preparations and key deliverables owed to Customer-X. I look forward to working with each of you to implement creative solutions to these problems. Thank you for your urgency in this matter.

Best Regards,

Aaron Spearin, MBB

(OK… Looking back, it’s a tad over-the-top and sensational, but you get the picture.., and it worked.  Light it and Sell it.)


III      How to make a team member feel welcome and enthusiastic.                     

a.       Ideas on how to crystalize "WIIFM" (What’s in it for me),

i.      What is the pain of failure or inaction?

ii.      What is the pleasure of success?

iii.      Think beyond the surface problem, and extrapolate on what could happen with inaction vs. action.

1.      Do your homework and paint the picture with details. Spell enough out to let their imaginations take over.          

b.      “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.” – Princess Leia, Star Wars.  Assure them of their importance to the mission.              

Outro: Thanks for listening to episode 30 of the E6S-Methods Podcast.  Stay tuned for episode number 31, Team Meeting Delegation. Can’t be in the meeting? Keep the momentum going by training a backup. “When you can’t, ensure someone can.”    Subscribe to past and future episodes on iTunes or stream us live on-demand with Stitcher Radio. Follow us on twitter @e6sindustries. Find us on LinkedIn to join a discussion. Outlines and graphics for all shows are posted on our website, www.E6S-Methods.com. “Journey Through Success”