Very often, identifying waste and improvement opportunities is the easy part of a lean programme. Sustaining the effort and winning the hearts and minds of people is often a much bigger challenge. This is particularly true for well established companies and public services.
The lean culture change is usually driven from the top. So what is the role of the business leader and management team in shaping the lean future of the company?
To keep this simple, the lean leaders must have
- A vision for the company – “It is better to grow into profitability rather than to shrink into profitability”(ref: The Lean Toolbox – Bicheno/Holweg). Employees are unlikely to support a cost cutting programme and must see a vision of growth and opportunity for their company.
- Strong communication channels. The company may have fine ideas and strategies but fail to communicate them to all of their workers. Structured management forums and regular workforce briefing should be supplemented by a presence in the processes. Management teams need to get out among their workforce and actively listen to feedback to keep in touch with the real operational issues in the business.
- Key measures. A real-time and well communicated measurement system is vital to ensuring that the business stays on track. If the employees don’t get this information, it is the equivalent to a team competing in a game without knowing the score.
- Systems for resource allocation. Allocation of resources must be based on real-time customer demand and systems must respond quickly to the signals generated by the lean business processes.
- Good processes to monitor performance and assist in removing roadblocks as required. There should be a sense of urgency to tackle problems straight away and to escalate unresolved issues quickly.
- Methods to “Catch” people doing the right things and recognise them for the good work that they do reinforcing the lean thinking within the company.
These issues often take far longer to get right than implementing lean tools. I’d be interested in feedback from lean leaders and a discussion on the key priorities for business leaders in a lean transformation.