We have been discussing the lean management system for the past two months — the practices and tools used to monitor, measure and sustain lean operations. Lean management practices identify where actual performance fails to meet expected performance; and it assigns and follows up improvement activities to bring actual in line with expected, or to raise the level of expected performance. The basic components of the lean management system are: standard work for leaders, visual controls, a daily accountability process and leadership discipline.
Daily Accountability Process: Steering and Setting Direction for Improvement Activities
This month’s column focuses on the third element of the lean management system, the daily accountability process. It provides the “steering wheel,” that is, the task assignments made by the meeting leader for what improvements will be worked on. It also provides the “throttle,” or the due date and resources for the improvement task. Daily accountability is typically implemented through daily meetings and visual controls.
In addition to including regular checks on the status of visual controls, leader standard work also includes a process to follow-up on the stories told by the visual controls — this is the daily accountability process. In it, leaders assess the meaning in the visuals, assign appropriate responses and hold people accountable for completing their assigned tasks. This follow-up process occurs largely in the structure of daily three-tier meetings. In this way, the three principal elements of lean management combine to form the essence of the lean management system.
Three Tiers of Daily Meetings
The daily accountability process takes place as an interlocking set of three brief, structured, daily meetings — one of which is the familiar, but often misunderstood, team start-up meeting. Each of these meetings is an explicit example of lean management’s focus on comparison of expected and actual.
1. The first tier is the team leader (first level of formally designated leadership) meeting briefly with team members. This typically happens at the start of the shift. The focus of this meeting is mostly on today’s assignments and any items of special note that day. The team leader updates yesterday’s performance, covers any issues of note from the previous day and reviews today’s plans and any issues.
2. The second tier is the supervisor meeting with his or her team leaders and any dedicated support group representatives. This meeting, led by the supervisor, focuses on two topics: running the department and improving the department. Information on the departmental team board typically includes status of key processes and equipment, as well as summary performance data.
3. The third tier is the manager or equivalent meeting with the supervisors, support group representatives or staff members. At this meeting, daily performance data is added to trend charts, and the manager can review the day’s staffing situation and then touch on yesterday’s performance measures. Items of note are covered regarding past performance or upcoming items. The last part of this meeting is a review of overdue items still pending and assignments due today.
Each of the meetings shares these characteristics:
• Brevity — rarely if ever longer than 15-20 minutes;
• Posture — standing up;
• Location — on or immediately adjacent to work area; and
• Agenda and content — defined by visual display board.
These meetings are among the main occasions where the increased accountability that comes with visual controls can be seen. Accountability and disciplined adherence to process are central to a daily endorsement — primarily at the second- and third-tier meetings — of a three-part process that includes: assessment (based on data captured on visual controls); assignment (for corrective action and/or improvement); and accountability (for having completed the previous day’s assignments).