Reach New Levels with Lean

October 13, 2022
  • Headshot of Audie M Penn, member of the Lean Certification Alliance Oversight and Appeals Committee.
    By Audie Penn
    Audie Penn Consulting

Author: Audie M Penn, LGC, LSC, LBC, is a member of the Lean Certification AllianceOversight and Appeals Committee. He is principal of Audie Penn Consulting, a firm specializing in the deployment of Operational Excellence. His focus is executing Strategy Deployment and training executives and local plant staff to execute process improvements and achieve targeted results.

When the four critical systems of Lean are intentionally implemented, organizational performance can reach historic levels.  Not only can performance reach new levels, but these outcomes are also both sustainable and foundational.  New levels become accessible as momentum increases and reliability becomes responsiveness and responsiveness becomes resilience.  In my last post, I shared some views about one of the systems, the strategy system.  The next critical system to consider is the management system.

The key processes that make up the management system are the accountability cycles, team and individual development, and leaders standard work, or simply put managing leaders own time.  There are two questions I repeat when working with clients on implementing or improving their own programs; Q1 – Did you follow your standard work? Q2 – Did you produce the intended results?

These two questions are a very simple version of the PDCA cycle and is often a great place to start practicing the disciplined application of PDCA.  As managers of processes, we should recognize one simple truth when considering the PDCA or accountability cycle.  Ask yourself this question; if I am not evaluating my processes with these two questions on a regular basis, then who is?  The answer you should come up with is no one.

Managers often spend their time where they are most comfortable – in the processes they came up through.  Many managers in many organizations have been promoted from within the organization.  This is a great practice, one that I encourage, but when individual contributors are asked to lead without any training or development, why would be frustrated when they bring the practices with them that made them great individual contributors?  Who is going to guide them into new practices and behaviors to lead them to success in this critical level of leadership?  One executive from a large global manufacturing corporation insists that the line supervisor is the most difficult job anyone will ever hold.

Leaders standard work is a process where a reporting manager works closely with the person to whom they report to define the scope of responsibility and reach agreement regarding the evidence of success in that role.  Identifying the processes for which one is accountable and the requirements of each process to achieve success is a simple, but often neglected conversation.  Allocating time to complete this work and the evidence of success in each provides clarity for both the manager and the report, thereby avoiding many sources of frustration for both parties.  Once the requirements are clear, it is possible to identify areas where new skills and experiences are needed to achieve success.

This is where the team and individual development activities become clearly necessary.  How do we work together as a team?  What contributions to the team am I required to provide?  Where am I lacking in knowledge, skill, and experience?  What are my options for gaining this knowledge and experience?  These are the questions the leadership team works through, establishing plans for spending time where needed to improve performance in the future.

The importance of development cannot be overstated.  The return on investment in development is incalculable.  Why, then, do we neglect this area of opportunity the way we do?  I return to the idea that when facing new and challenging process for which we are newly assigned, without guidance and clarity, we revert to what we know and are familiar with.  How have I created value and for what behaviors have I been rewarded in the past?  That is our default.  Without introducing and experimenting with new behaviors we are left with what we know.  What got me here will not get me where I am going next.

New leaders often use brute force and the if you want something done well, then you’ll have to do it yourself thinking that got them rewarded and promoted in the past.  We do not know what we do not know, and we need coaching and mentoring to help us move into new thinking and new behaviors.  Why do so many lean implementations fail?  Because we have no management system processes in place, and we are left to our own devises and trial and error to move us forward.

Understanding the relationship between the strategy systems and the management systems is a critical element to successful implementation.  Next, we will connect the performance systems to the bigger picture and finally we will include the leadership or cultural systems to our thinking.  Watch for the next two systems soon.

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