What Is The Lean Organisation?
Successful Lean organisations rely on a combination of tools and techniques, top down and bottom up, to ensure that their Lean activities are successful and most importantly are sustained and continually improved. The key step that organisations fail to make is the move from the initial project based approach to a more systematic all-encompassing Lean system which touches all parts of the business. The system needs to involve all parts of the business and cannot be limited to the factory or the office or front line staff alone. The tools and system must be designed to fit the organisation’s needs: starting with the Purpose, then the Process and then the People.
The origins of Lean are within manufacturing so we can expect that this is the most mature area where we look for ideas and inspiration to apply to different sectors and organisations. Inside manufacturing there will be several different lenses to view Lean:
• The operator: They will be part of a team with a team leader. They will meet daily around their team board. The team board consists of a large whiteboard whose content is created by the team for the team to help them in their daily work and to drive continuous improvement. They discuss yesterday’s issues, todays work and watch outs and come up with ideas for improvement. If there is time in the day these ideas will be implemented, if not they will be logged onto their action sheet for action at their weekly improvement time session. Ideas which require external support are also noted on their Kaizen action sheet. The team displays and uses its skills matrix to identify training needs and standard work is used to train new team members. On a regular basis the team leader coaches individuals on tasks and performance. On a regular basis senior leadership attends the morning meeting to coach the team. The team reviews its performance daily against the value driven measures that have been developed. The measures also include specific focus on problem areas in the operation. The team’s performance is continually improving and new challenges are being sought. The team uses the team board to highlight good performance for individual team members.
• The team have just heard that a University is coming to visit their cell next week as it was voted best in class at manufacturing awards 2013.
• Team leader: The team leader spends most of his time coaching and supporting the operators. The team leader coaches the use of practical problem tools to eliminate down time and improve flow and reduce waste.
The office staff have are now fully supportive of Lean having moved on from their initial antagonism towards Lean as a manufacturing tool. They have now interpreted Lean to apply to their own activities in their own way relate to their issues and work. This was helped by the leadership commitment not to make any redundancies due to Lean but to re-deploy to other areas to increase sales or deploy more Lean. Teams have been defined in the office and they are operating in a similar but different way to the factory.
• Teams: Teams have been formed at a functional level and they operate the same daily system as in the factory. Their work is defined by the process rather than cell operations and their improvement is driven to improve flow and increase right first time in the process. As Lean is new to the office, targets have been set for some of the basic enabling tools of Lean, to help drive deployment and achieve a base level of understanding for everyone.
• In addition to the functional teams, cross-functional process teams have also been created to support the key business processes identified by the site steering committee. They operate in the same way as the functional teams but focus around their single process as their improvement activity. They meet around a process team board at a frequency determined by the intensity of the process or indeed if it is currently active – for example request for quotation. They review the key process measures again derived from customer value. There is much debate to achieve consensus about the status of the process, but this is far more inclusive and faster than the endless emails and spread-sheets that were used before.
• Managers: They spend most of their time coaching staff and leading improvement events. They are really embracing the concept of leaders as teachers although some are finding this a hard transition from sitting behind a desk all day!. Over time this facilitation will pass to the teams directly – leaders from the teams with a keen eye for improvement will develop. As with manufacturing managers also coach problem solving to help improve flow and reduce wastes within the Business process.
As a Leader
Life as a Lean leader is very much different to life before Lean. The responsibilities are far more pro-active and action orientated than before. A much higher proportion of the leader’s time is spent coaching and giving feedback to their staff. Every day the leader will systematically walk a key process either in the office or a key value stream. This is not a “hello how are you?” discussion but a check on the key points and critical areas of the processes/VSMs. The leaders use this as an opportunity to interact and review performance with staff. The leaders follow their own standard work which is a visual, behaviour change tool which encourages the use of coaching and hence the supports concept of the leader as a teacher.
• The leadership team: Has its own team board and meets daily and weekly in the same was as other teams on the site. It’s the site CI leader’s job to coach the leaders on a regular basis.
• As a leadership team there is far more focus on accountability, and the session on core values has brought the team together and operating in a far more consistent way that is appreciated throughout the site. This is evident in the employee survey scores which have risen consistently since Lean began to be implemented.
• Site: The site has defined its key processes through the site steering committee and has prioritised for improvement those processes which will have most impact on the business objectives. Teams have been created to improve these processes systematically through the year.
• Overall business results have improved since Lean started. The new business strategy which saw some products deleted and new markets approached for existing products has meant that profit per part has increased and there is a steady pipeline of growth. Lean has provided the focus to improve the processes determined by the business strategy.