Lean Management: No Posers Allowed!

A lot of executives have heard about Lean management and would like to try it – seems like a good idea.

(Even the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service thinks Lean is a good idea!)

Are you ready to Rock?

For those who have heard of Lean, they usually think of exercises like 5S or Kaizen blitz. These are tools that let people sample the Lean approach and gain some quick wins – without making a real commitment. Unit managers can dip a toe in the water while still reporting to the C-Executives that, “Yes, we’re doing Lean!”

But running a couple of workshops and re-organizing the supply closet – then declaring yourself a Lean shop – is like learning to play three chords on a guitar and declaring yourself a rock star.

Just because you can play a little doesn’t mean that you are ready to live like a rock star – Rock and Roll is a lifestyle, man! No posers allowed.

Live Below the Waterline

Peter Hines and his co-authors, in the book Staying Lean, employ the (overused and tired, yet still appropriate) Iceberg metaphor to describe what really drives successful and sustainable Lean adoption.

In this interpretation of the Iceberg you’ll find the obvious, visible aspects of Lean above the waterline:

  • Technologies, Tools & Techniques
  • Processes

But, as always, the centre of gravity – and the aspects of Lean that will ultimately determine the long term success of the initiative – lies hidden below the waterline:

  • Strategy & Alignment
  • Leadership
  • Behaviour & Engagement

Enough about Lean

“But isn’t Lean supposed to be about focusing our efforts on the customer, eliminating waste, and continually improving our processes?”

Yes.

Now, this is where we stop talking about Lean for a minute.

It doesn’t matter what approach to managing your business you choose, if you don’t have those items that are “below the waterline” –

Strategy & Alignment, Leadership, Behaviour & Engagement – working, it doesn’t matter what approach you use. It won’t last, and you will soon be off chasing the next ‘flavor of the month’.

And that next approach will probably offer some nice short-term gains that are, again, not sustained. Rinse. Repeat.

Back to Lean.

Given that, couldn’t you just focus on those three items and forget about Lean? Yes, absolutely. But those three bullets are so difficult for managers to get right that often an external framework is useful to guide their behaviours and actions.

Note – we are not talking about “employee” behaviours and actions.

Unfortunately, that is the mindset that many managers take when they start to explore Lean as an approach to guiding the activities in their organization. But it’s not about “them”. It’s about “you”.

With that in mind, I would like to talk about the single most important tool that a manager has to support a successful Lean rollout.

Genchi Genbutsu

Genchi genbutsu is Japanese for “go and see for yourself”, often referred to in North America as going gemba.

This is a simple concept that can be further simplified for the North American manager: “Get out of your office!”

You will never get the real story sitting at your desk. Reports will be filtered for any number of reasons – most emerging directly from CYA issues.1

This is not a “take charge” event. Your goal is to observe and ask appropriate questions; perhaps the most important – and least employed – tool that a manager has.

Stop making excuses. You are not too busy. You want to call yourself a leader? Get out of your office and go talk to your people. Every day. Nothing that you do is more important than this.

Scratching the Surface

This Lean project? It won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy.

Obviously, we are just scratching the surface of these topics, but the resources available are vast. Some are free, some not. The most important thing?

First, you have to care.


1CYA

‘Stones’ Photo Credit: Jonathan Bayer via Compfight cc
‘Office Door’ Credit: Julia Manzerova via Compfight cc

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