Over the last year I have worked with a client on introducing, developing and securing Lean Management on various locations in the Netherlands and abroad. Recently, a more formal evaluation with top management and the management of the involved locations took place. It’s always interesting then, to hear how Lean Management is actually experienced across an organization. Through this blog post I thought it would be nice to share some of these experiences with my readers. Lean Management is sometimes interpreted as only a technique, although I think that in the end it involves a complete turnaround in the way people think and act with consequences for the associates, managers, the mutual relations and collaboration, processes and problem-solving, performance and customers.
Flow in Management
Lean Management has created a strong rhythm and provided a clear structure in the daily and weekly management activities. Previously, managerial meetings often were reactive and initiated on account of problems that really existed already for too long a time. Nowadays, the introduction of Leader Standard Work on various levels of the organization has led to rhythmic, highly frequent and short cyclic management that enables problems to be tackled almost the moment they arise. As a result, problems are perceived to be (and stay) “small” problems, that are relatively easy to eliminate. Where small batches in a manufacturing process leads to flow in the value stream, highly frequent management leads to what I call “management flow”.
Continual, Results-Relevant Problem-Solving by Teams
Due to the introduction of Lean Management, results are now transparent to all in the organization, and teams are more aware of what the process actually delivers. Because the teams themselves track this “voice of the process” instead of being told (by management or a staff function) what the numbers are, teams have a better understanding of what goes on and show more ownership of the outcomes. Problems have become far more visible and are now more concretely acknowledged, not evaded, by the teams. Furthermore, problems are now more “results-relevant”, i.e., tied to a process outcome by going from the symptom (the process outcome), to possible explanatory causes through joint questioning of the way work works.
As a result of the increased ownership and transparency of process outcomes and the highly frequent questioning of teams by management, teams have also taken more responsibility for solving problems within their own circle of influence. Problems that require assistance from management or specialized functions within the company are quickly escalated via the multi-level and rhythmic Lean management structure that has been introduced. The same highly frequent follow-up by management on the shop floor also introduces a certain pressure (without becoming stressful) on the resolution of identified problems.
The focus on structural solutions by introducing and formalizing improvements in the existing mutual agreements (i.e., standards) or creating these when absent, has grown enormously. As an organization, it is now far more working on “preventing wounds” instead of only “putting on band-aids”. Moreover, because of the attention for standards, a foundation has been created for joint learning through the exchange of new knowledge and improvements (captured in standards) and through the mutual visits that have been initiated.
Objectivity and Respect
Because results and countermeasures have become much more transparent, it has become much easier to address anyone on respecting agreements. This, because agreements, more than ever before, have been made and maintained jointly. Before, demanding someone to respect standards was perceived as difficult, and remarks would often be taken personally. Besides, owing to the increased ownership and collectiveness, teams also feel less inhibited to call managers to task about respecting standards. There is more respect than before; respect for each other, for teams and the agreements that were made which makes that adherence to standards (until better ones are found) is more natural.
Due to the introduction of Lean Management, teams and their management have got more control on the processes and their resulting performance. Transparency of the resulting numbers, accelerated problem detection and resolution, increased ownership and the structural improvement of processes have led to improved results in various areas. Owing to the daily attention for performance, and the introduction of many both small and larger improvements, the organization now belongs to the best companies within the conglomerate to which it belongs when it comes to safety, it has significantly improved quality and cut lead times, eliminated and reduced many wastes of time and it has reduced workplace absenteeism.
It is also interesting to see that clients are very much aware and impressed by the increased professionalism and the progress that has been made. Customer representatives more often come and visit and congratulate the teams and their management for the very visible attention that exists for those aspects they value and the progress that has been made on these subjects.
Associates now feel more involved with the organization. As a result of the many opportunities that have been created to jointly discuss and solve problems, and to address these issues regularly with their management, people now feel far more listened to than ever before. But also the organization’s leadership is now much more involved in what goes on on the shop floor; there’s more mutual understanding and respect. Communication has improved, both within and across the existing teams, as between teams and their management resulting in more and better collaboration across the organization. Also, because problems are more immediately addressed, there are less and less frustrations on the shop floor. And finally, I am personally pleased to hear that people are more proud of themselves, their team and their organization. Proud because they have proven to themselves that they can solve problems together, proud because they get positive attention from their colleagues and their management, and proud because customers come and visit their work place, are impressed and congratulate them.
The above hopefully illustrates how big the impact of the introduction of Lean Management can be. It is, however, not an easy task to truly adopt Lean thinking and doing within an organization. But if introduced correctly, Lean Management can lead to an evolution in the company’s culture, its way of thinking and doing, and the corresponding results!