The difference between doing lean and being lean is lean management. The purpose of lean management is to sustain a lean production systems. Without a lean management system, lean production implementations often falter, sometimes fail, and virtually never deliver up to their long-run promises. So, what sustains the lean management system? In a word, it’s you.
As an organization are you doing Lean or are you Lean? This is a simple questions which can easily identify if your organization sees Lean as a strategic cultural shift or as a flavor of the day. Of course it's not just lean but can pertain to any methodology your organization uses (Lean, Agile, SS, DesignThinking) but for this discussion let's use Lean. I believe the difference between being successful in value based methods and failing is the ability to instill an organization or cultural shift over a program or process shift. In other words any lean process needs lean management to be successful.
Jeff Liker introduces the dilemma perfectly by stating: "Every organization has a set of processes that it uses to provide a material product, information, or a service to customers, and if we can make those processes consistent—that is, reduce variability and shrink the lead time—we can get closer to the ideal of giving our customers what they want, in the amount they want, when they want it. So let’s train some Lean Six Sigma experts to grab the tools and start hacking away at the variability and waste that stretch out lead time; this will make us more successful, both for our customers and for our business. What could be simpler?" Liker, Jeffrey (2011-11-11). The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership
Unfortunately, decades of attempts to do this show that it does not work, at least not in a way that is sustainable for the long term. We measure the process and the results precisely, using Six Sigma, and we develop the optimal solution. We “lean out the process,” shifting to smaller batches, moving steps closer together, and eliminating the bad steps, and the key performance indicators go wild, showing improvements that we had never thought possible. Then comes the bad news. As time passes, the processes seem to turn on themselves and degrade, with variability and waste growing back again. As one Toyota master of lean put it: “It is like pulling the weeds, but leaving the roots.” So what is the solution? Are there sustainability tools? Do we need more Lean Six Sigma black belts and more green belt training? Do we need tougher senior executives setting aggressive goals and holding managers’ feet to the fire to deliver, or else? All of these remedies have been tried, and they have helped for a time, but they still have not produced the sustained excellence that we desire.
A lean organization tends to need to develop organically. It's can be hoped for and it can't be doneovernight. In the book "Toyota Kata" Mike Rother states" At Toyota, improving and managing are one and the same. The improvement kata in Part III is to a considerable degree how Toyota manages its processes and people from day to day. In comparison, non-Toyota companies tend to see managing as a unique and separate activity. Improvement is something extra, added on to managing." Usually when initiatives fail it's because it "takes too long" and management needs "quicker success." Comments such as these indicate the desire for change is tactical and not driven at a fundamental level.
Although management is often the reason for failure in lean cultures it's also on of the largest indicators for success. You do not need a different management system for lean because it is so complex compared to what you have done before. You need it because lean is so different from what you have done before. Many of the habits in your organization, as well as your own, are likely to be incompatible with an effectively functioning lean production environment. You have a conventional mass production management system and culture. You need a lean management system and culture.
In the book "Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions", Successful leaders are those who behave in particular ways. In other words, success is based on what you do, not on who you are. That is fortunate, because for most of us, it is too late to be born a leader! Behavior can be learned and unlearned. Included here are how you respond to interruptions in production, the way you arrive at conclusions, and what you ask people to pay attention to. Being a lean organization does not mean doing a couple project with value in mind. Also do not confuse tools and techniques with the indispensable ingredient: you as the chief accountability officer. Without you, no tools, no processes, no books can make your lean implementation a healthy, growing, improving proposition.
Nothing sustains itself, certainly not lean production or lean management. So, act to sustain what you have done by following the processes you have implemented. Again David Mann states in Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions:
- Use your standard work to establish or stick with a routine for monitoring your processes and the
- Check the status of visual controls as part of your routine. Insist that those responsible keep them current with accurate and complete entries where reasons are called for. Teach people, over again where necessary, why visual controls are important, where they fit in lean management, and how they drive action for improvement.
- Follow up on what you expect in your daily three-tier accountability meetings. Assign tasks to stabilize, diagnose, and improve your area. Follow up on assignments and use visual accountability tools, for example, assignments posted on due dates and coded green for complete, red for overdue. Do not shrink from green/red color coding.
- Schedule and stick with regular gemba walks with each subordinate. Stick faithfully to the schedule. Get a feel through asking questions what he or she knows well and what areas need strengthening. Give homework tasks to develop understanding and follow up assignments the next week. Take notes on your gemba walks; expect your students to do likewise. Remember the first purpose of gemba walking is to teach.
- Everywhere, ask, “What is the process here?” How could someone tell? Is it working? How is it sustained?” Where necessary, note task assignments and gemba walk topics based on the quality of answers.
- Establish an assessment schedule and a plan to phase it in. Share the detailed assessment categories widely. Post results where they can be seen. Expect to see evidence of improvement activities, such as A-3s, daily task assignments, and other process improvement work to address low-performing categories.
- Realize you will never be done and take steps to avoid burnout for yourself and others. Organize a regular process for sharing internal best practices so you and your team can recognize the successes you have achieved, even as you gird for work on further
Can a company create an environment in which people are empowered through concrete experiences to develop conviction, trust in a vision, face challenges and come out stronger, and act decisively in response to rapid change? Yes. It largely comes down to creating a culture and then constantly reinforcing consistent practices that enable true leadership to develop. Culture and leadership are two sides of the same coin, and both must be constantly—literally every day—recreated and reinforced through deliberate attention.