Mar 7, 2014 | Posted by Matt Elson
Top 5 Ways TPS Could Have Saved the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire: one of the greatest organizations in the history of the world. At it’s height it held sway over a quarter of the world’s total population, instituted many practices that are part of our modern world (influences in language, art, architecture, philosophy, law and government), and was a major reason the world enjoyed relative peace for over two centuries (Pax Romana). But, as we all know, the Roman Empire fell, leading to almost 1000 years of the Middle Ages (also known as the Dark Ages…for good reason!).
The reasons for The Fall are many (and smarter people than I know a lot more about it), but I was wondering: What if the Roman Empire and it’s leaders utilized TPS thinking? Would the Empire have been saved? What would the Roman Empire’s true north look like? Here are some lessons:
Don’t Outsource Your Core Competencies
In this time, the Roman Army maintained the peace. The army enforced this peace through being highly organized, standardized and well led…in other words, every member of the army knew their job, were trained & equipped extremely well and were led by officers with deep skills and experience. Once the Empire started to replace the professional army with mercenaries (soldiers for hire…in other words, they outsourced their army), trouble started. Their new outsourced army turned against the state (using the same knowledge that made the Roman Army great).
What if instead of outsourcing, the army embraced a continuous improvement program to improve all of it’s processes? Training was more effective and less expensive because they followed the TPS incremental training method. Overall costs are reduced, without sacrificing the quality of soldiers (team members). When an organization invests in it’s human resources, engagement goes ways up…an engaged team is also a team that is constantly improving!
You Can’t Lead from the Center
At the Fall, there was increasing tension between the Emperor and the Senate. The powerful Emperors eventually became disconnected from the real world, consequently making many ill-fated choices. Without information flowing from the rest of the organization (i.e. the citizens, through the Senate), decision making and strategic planning was deeply flawed.
By using a simple balanced scorecard with easy to understand (and easy to measure) metrics that represent the whole Empire, maybe those decisions would have been better? When a leader can accurately see what is happening, they can direct and guide the organization into the future. Even with a BSC, it is important to be “in” the organization; go to the gemba to see for yourself what the problems are. In the Empire’s case, what if the Emperor made a regular gemba walk throughout the Empire to see the problems first hand. Things may have been different!
Always Move Forward
By the end of the Empire, it was happy to sit back and enjoy the riches from it’s vast territories. Innovation (in the form of entrepreneurialism or technological advancement) all but stopped. The cost structure of the Empire itself could no longer be supported, so across the board “cost cutting” began. These cuts (infrastructure, education, training, communication, etc.) began to erode the ability of the Empire to function.
By using the concept of kaizen (continuous, incremental improvement), this lack of innovation would never have occurred. Processes and products would have constantly been improved in terms of safety, quality, quantity and cost. No collapse, only a steady, never-ending journey forward.
Growth Must be Sustainable
Near the end, the size of the Empire was simply unsustainable. Poor planning led to infrastructure degradation, agricultural decline (due to over-use), and an increasing tax burden on the citizenry (there were no more conquered territories to pay tribute). Since there was no economic budget process (no planning), the economy that once relied on plundering existing resources, simply collapsed.
By carefully planning Rate of Operation (essentially capacity vs. demand), you ensure that your organization has the right resources to sustain itself. Short-term spikes in either capacity or demand lead to additional waste (mura, the waste of unevenness). Ensure that your organization (it’s systems and processes) operates at the balance point, even at the cost of short-term growth. Grow, then sustain and stabilize. Grow, then sustain and stabilize. Never reckless growth. “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, so maybe the growth of the Empire should have been a bit slower…slow and deliberate is better than frantic and scattered.
Less Talk, More Action
Endless debate in the Senate. Endless games in the Colosseum. Endless changes to taxation rules, to economic policy and to class systems. Instead of taking real action for change, the Roman Empire became paralyzed, always caught up in the day-to-day, never looking forward into the future. Instead of adding value to the organization through innovation and productivity, the citizenry became more interested in Gladiatorial Games (which eventually accounted for 1/3 of the overall income for the entire Roman economy).
You can’t push the envelope without trying…”Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” The Roman Empire was build through hard work. Rolling up your sleeves, getting your hands dirty, and “learning by doing” serve to drive you forward on a daily basis. TPS is built on trying something new, experimenting and analyzing the results. If the results are better than the current condition, then great! If the results missed the target, then great! At least you learned something new.
By continuing to push, to try new things and analyzing the results, maybe the Roman Empire could have been saved?
“Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.” ~ Marcus Aurelius. If only they would have listened!
(Shout out to Joel Gross, TPS Practioner and history buff for the quote source! http://www.linkedin.com/in/joelagross)