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Business Funerals and Other Lean Thoughts

It’s budget season. Everyone is making plans for next year. Even our wonderful federal government may actually pass its first budget in three years. And when it does, the total will be close to $12,000 for each person in the United States. $4,000,000,000,000.

How did it get so big?

A wonderful Methodist minister, John Ed Mathison, gave me the answer. They refused to hold any program funerals. And they are not alone.

John Ed was hosting a regional conference on how to grow your church. In the middle of suggesting decentralized ownership of programs, he mentioned that his youth group decided what they were doing wasn’t working. Everyone took notice of his next few statements. Paraphasing, John Ed said ” They decided to hold a funeral for the program. They built a coffin, held a memorial service to celebrate the program’s life, and then buried it out back.”

This is a great example of how to do zero based thinking and budgeting. Too often we carry on programs without ever asking, “If I were starting my business today, what would I do?” We cling to programs and functions well after the market has moved on because we don’t want to admit the obvious or we don’t like the personnel aspect of the decision.

Dr. Shigeo Shingo in his 1959 lean classic, Kaizen and The Art of Creative Thinking, put it this way: Never Accept the Status Quo. As a conservative, my lean thinking initially was toward the status quo. As a business owner and continuous learner, however, my survival depends on my willingness to assess the market and change with it. And nature backs change including funerals.

Last year we bought a house with two satsuma trees. Our initial crop was small and bitter. Why? Their location provided enough sunlight for one tree. This summer we pulled one( our funeral) and then pruned(our partial funeral) the early sprouts to not overburden the limbs on the remaining tree. The result, our crop is humongous and they are perfectly semi-sweet. Did you know you can peel a satsuma while you drive to work? Sweet!

So as you plan your budget meetings, go ahead and plan a funeral service or two. Make sure the service includes not only celebrating the program’s life but  also  moves on to the abundant life to come for your company.

And if anyone knows a good funeral director in D.C., we need to talk:)

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