I was driving down the 5 in Los Angeles yesterday on my way back to the hotel and, as I’ve discovered is often the case when one’s pace is a blistering 3 M.P.H., my mind began to wander a bit. If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’re probably saying to yourself “great, he’s probably going to try to relate some ancient historical fact or figure to Lean or Six Sigma.” Okay so I’m a little transparent, but take my word for it the wanderings of my mind are much closer to the center of the distribution out here than they are back East.

The night before this traffic jam I was hanging out in my room watching a story about Hannibal on the History channel. In the 3rd century B.C.E. the Romans and the Carthaginians had a bit of a disagreement over the control of commerce in the Mediterranean and a showdown was on the horizon. The Romans figured they would muster their forces and sail to Spain to meet the Carthaginian army there but Hannibal, their commander, had other ideas. In a bold military maneuver, Hannibal led a large army with its African war elephants across the Rhône River and over the Alps in icy weather and surprised the Romans on their own turf. In 216 B.C.E. at the Battle of Cannae, Hannibal’s forces inflicted one of the worst defeats on the Romans in their history.

The fighting itself is not what intrigues me, it’s the travel. You see, moving along the 5 at an elephants pace made me think about just how amazing Hannibal’s journey was. Imagine how overwhelming the idea must have been to the officers in the corps when Hannibal called them to his tent and said “fellas, we’re going to Rome.” I’m sure they would have been messaging each other on their Blackberrys, “is this guy nuts,” if they’d had them. But Hannibal had vision and he obviously had a good plan.

A good plan can go a long way toward rallying the support needed throughout the ranks when one is planning a bold action. Implementing Lean or Six Sigma, depending on the current state of your organization, can be a pretty bold step. As such, when a leader stands before his council to announce the implementation of these methodologies he must not only have the vision, he must have a plan. Successful deployments depend on the action and determination of the individuals within the organization. If the mission and its goals are ambiguous, ROI will be minimal and outright failure will be a real possibility. The plan is job number one.

Your team is probably not planning to cross the snow covered Alps on elephants, but know this, it was done 2000 years ago without the aid of GPS or cell phones. A good plan can take you far, very far.

Maybe what the 5 needs is a few more peanut stands…

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