Monday, September 29, 2014

Eliminating the Management Roadblock for Improvement

On A Lean Journey’s Facebook page this past week we have been discussing the largest roadblock to Lean implementation. Overwhelming the response has been management.

In my experience I have learned that the single most important element for success in Lean is the human element.   First and foremost Lean managers have the critical role of motivating and engaging all people to work together toward a common goal. Management must define and explain what that goal is, share a path to achieve it, motivate people to take the journey with them, and assist them by removing obstacles.

Lean requires top-to-bottom leadership of a special kind. Lean leaders need to be firm and inspiring, relentless and resilient, demanding and forgiving, focused and flexible. Above all, they have to be smart and highly respected in the organization. Every successful company has at least one of these leaders. These people must be a passionate part of the Lean leadership team.

Commitment from management is a “MUST”. In fact, it is the driving force. Procedures, tools, and database are all useless if the management does not want to see an improvement culture in the organization. The employees of the organization will not care, if the management themselves do not show the attitude to follow the right path.

The truth is demonstrating commitment is hard work. Wavering commitment is usually seen as no commitment at all. The only way to achieve a reputation for commitment is through determination and persistence. Genuine commitment stands the test of time.

Commitment is demonstrated by a combination of two actions. The first action is called supporting. The second action underlying commitment is called improving. It is the combination of both supporting and improving behaviors that makes up the practice of commitment. Company leaders demonstrate their commitment to change and improvement by making these behaviors visible to everyone. Leading by example is the ultimate demonstration of your commitment.

Most management teams don’t understand Lean. When we don’t understand something it is next to impossible to support it. This lack of understanding of Lean by management allows even the most subtle of things to derail Lean efforts.

However those managers who truly know Lean understand the benefit comes from developing people to think and improve their own process the more they define the role as influencing or coaching. Management must focus on how solutions are developed. Develop, via coaching, the capability in people to develop new solutions. Leaders can have the biggest impact coaching or influencing the process of improvement to capture the ingenuity of those in the organization.

Getting executives in your company to want to support and then adopt Lean Thinking may be difficult but not impossible. We would all like to work at a company where the top people in the organization don’t just do Lean but live Lean but many of us work at a place where they don’t even necessarily do Lean. 

The level of involvement in Lean by the management team shapes the Lean implementation and those who may lead it. In my experience the less knowledgeable the management about REAL Lean (Bob Emiliani’s term) the more they think of it as a set of tools the more they want you to just do it. These are the managers that are usually hands-off with Lean and want to see the short term gains to demonstrate they are improving the process. They are focused on the results and outcomes and not the means by which we achieve them. This task oriented approach to management unfortunately is only sustainable while the doer is doing.

The management system must change as the production system changes in Lean. A Lean management system comprises of the practices and tools used to monitor, measure, and sustain the operation of Lean production. Lean management practices identify where actual performance fails to meet expected performance; assigns and follows up improvement activities to bring actual in line with the expected, or to raise the level of performance.

Management can’t be the roadblock to change. They need to be the champion for change. All managers are teachers, and their actions determine company capability. Whether consciously or not, with their everyday words and actions all managers are teaching their people a mindset and approach.

Lean management is an art one should perfect with time and with the understanding about Lean manufacturing. Lean leaders will be the most important asset to any organization in its Lean journey. 

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Tim

    The problem I see is that all to often there is no commitment after all it is an absolute you either are or are not committed to anything. But in many companies management may be willing to commit to Lean, yet they lack the support of committed ownership. It is virtually impossible for any group of executives to commit to any long-term business improvement effort if the ownership is only interested in today's results. After all Lean and most other true business improvement methods only truly produce results if they can be maintained in the long run.

    The other issue I see with management is that they are focusing their efforts on the wrong things. They are far to often trying to fix today's problems instead of empowering those under them to get it done, and at the same time ignoring the future altogether. The higher you are in an organization the farther out in the future you should be looking. The only time you should be even considering something related to the next year is when a decision to continue with a project or to cancel it comes up. After all some ideas may have been good at the time they were first made, but conditions change and may have made some of them useless, or they may just not be working out, and thus they need to be eliminated before they eat up more resources. After all we are not the US military were we commit to something and never give up even if what it will produce is worthless (the Bradley fighting vehicle or the current front running fighter planes, though both these examples are of something that is trying to be something for everyone, and end up useless for everyone). Managing is that act of using your resources and people properly, it is not proving how much you know and can do nor is it proving how well you can control things.