The Lean Management System: Leadership Discipline

The purpose of lean management is to sustain a lean production system. Without a lean management system, lean implementation often falters, sometimes fails, and virtually never delivers up to its long-run promises. So, what sustains the lean management...


The purpose of lean management is to sustain a lean production system. Without a lean management system, lean implementation often falters, sometimes fails, and virtually never delivers up to its long-run promises. So, what sustains the lean management system? In a word, it’s you.

The final element in the lean management system is leadership discipline (Editor’s note: The other three parts of the lean management system are discussed in-depth in the March, April and May Lean Security Operations columns, which are available online at SecurityInfoWatch.com/magazine/ste). As a leader in your lean environment, you are the force that can motivate and sustain lean management. That applies no matter what your position — whether you are responsible for a team or department, a value stream or plant, a business unit or the organization as a whole.

Expectations for processes and the ability to compare actual vs. expected are the threads that connect the elements in lean management. The person at the top of the unit, however defined, is in the position to set expectations and, more importantly, to follow up on them. Defining expectations and holding people accountable to them is the key to a successful lean implementation. The higher in the organization this extends, the better the chances for success.

Making accountability easier to see and execute is the objective that underlies lean management’s way of thinking, its tools and approaches. But do not confuse tools and techniques with the indispensible ingredient: you as the chief accountability officer. Without you, no tools, processes or books can make your lean implementation a healthy, growing, improving proposition.

What should you do?

Stick to what you have just implemented. You have installed the engine, drive train and controls of the lean management system. Do not leave it in the garage, waiting for things to get difficult before learning how to “drive” your new management system. Proficiency in lean management is like many other things — you get better with practice. It shows when you have to perform under pressure.

Consider the Steps you Have Taken: You have defined expectations for performance and implemented tools to compare expected vs. actual execution. These expectations are defined in day-to-day, operational terms in leader standard work. An important element in this standard work is to regularly reinforce visual controls. The visuals reflect adherence or variation from processes and expectations. Then, the daily three-tier meetings and the cycle of assessment, assignment and accountability will lead to countermeasures, while causes of variation are found and eliminated.

Rely on Leader Standard Work: The steps you need to take should be documented in your own standardized work. Follow it as you would follow a recipe for success. Require and reinforce others to follow their standard work as well. Reinforcement comes by briefly reviewing each subordinate’s completed standard work document every day. Respond in a timely and appropriate way to requests they have noted on their standard work forms. Respond as well to the other things you see on the forms.

Maintain the Visual Controls: Where you have implemented visual controls, follow up to be sure they are being maintained. Verifying that visuals are current and the information on them is accurate and clear should be one of the key items on your standard work. When problems arise in areas without visuals, quickly develop a tracking process and analysis appropriate to the problem.

Conduct Regular Gemba (where the action is) Walks: The learning model for lean management is the master-apprentice relationship. When you gemba walk others, you accomplish several things. You give others the opportunity for tailored, one-on-one learning. You demonstrate the importance of going to the place, looking at the process, talking with the people as a key in assessing process performance. And, in a structured, scheduled way, you reserve time to observe people and processes; draw inferences about steps you need to take; and refresh your ground-level view of how the process is operating to bring to your tier of the daily accountability process.

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