Avoid Roots and Vines in Your Operation

“People pretend not to like grapes when the vines are too high for them to reach.” – Marguerite de Navarre

Organizations that seek to continually improve understand the value they unlock in their businesses when they maximize their flexibility. They understand that change is an inevitable part of always getting better. There are two important reasons that you want to avoid roots and vines in your operations; they prevent rapid improvement and crush on creativity. 

Prevent Rapid Improvement

The term “roots and vines” is a metaphor for operational elements that are difficult to change.  The analogy compares an operation to a tree in the jungle. Imagine wanting to move a banana tree three feet to the right in the jungle. Not only would you have to untangle all the vines wrapped in the branches, but you would have the roots to deal with as well.

Many operations are set up similarly. The analogy is an obvious one if you take a quick walk through a production facility and see power cables hanging from the ceiling and equipment bolted to the floor. But thinking about the processes in your business and how they are structured bring to light similar barriers that are not as obvious.

An example of roots and vines could be the following: “We can’t group the shop floor equipment into value streams because the accounting system assigns cost by department.” Another one is: “We can not assign a manager to the value stream because they would overlap with the department managers and who would be responsible?” Yet another example is: “Our job classifications do not allow those positions to do that task.”

These type of roots and vines have been a part of operations for a long time. The responsibility of today’s leader is to not create any more.

Crush Creativity

Several craft shops sell paint by number kits. The idea is to duplicate the Mona Lisa by placing the corresponding color in the outlined space to the number in that space. If followed correctly the result will likely be a picture very much like the Mona Lisa. It will certainly not be different then the original nor better.

When a group asks its people to improve a process but places lines with numbers and specific criteria like “We have to make it work with the existing scheduling system,” creativity is greatly limited. A duplicate system is more likely to be the result, rather than the original, and it is less likely to be better.

Companies that understand this principle not only try to remove these barriers but they spend an equal amount of time avoiding them. They ask, “Can we move that assembly table over there and can we put it on wheels?”

Put your improvements on wheels. As great as an idea can be today, there will be a better one tomorrow that will cause you to want to rapidly change again.

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He is also the founder of UTV Advisors, a business consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, PA.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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