Saturday, May 10, 2014

Who Must Lead Lean?

As my knowledge of Lean has grown, I've come to some important discoveries.  First is that Lean was not a collection of tools to eliminate waste.  Later, it became clear that Lean is a business system.  Using the Socratic method, I’d like to walk readers through a process of discovery intended to answer the question: Who must lead a Lean transformation?

Who in your organization is currently responsible for all the business systems?  If your organization were to change to a Lean business system, who could make the decision?

Value Stream Maps (VSM) are strategic tools used for three distinct purposes:
  1.   Capture current (baseline) conditions
  2.   Identify obstacles to flow.
  3.   Establish the priority of obstacle removal and the specific Lean tool to be used for each.
Who in the organization is best positioned to use that information?

The use of Lean tools (most frequently in Kaizen events) requires some very specific pre-work.  Someone has to determine:
·      where to begin the Kaizen (as indicated by the VSM)?
·      what Lean tool to use?
·      what coordination needs to be effected with process owners, suppliers and customers?
·      who will be on the Kaizen team from:
o   the process owners?
o   the customers of the process?
o   the suppliers to the process?
·      how much the value stream needs to build ahead, or offload, in advance of the week-long shutdown of the process?

Who in the organization is best positioned to make those decisions?

You’ll note that, thus far, I’ve kept the discussion to the use of Lean tools, but what about culture?  Isn’t Lean also about changing the culture?  What layer of the organization has the most direct impact on the culture? 

One way of answering this question is to ask, if anyone else in the organization can override the decisions of the person you’d recommend?  If they can, doesn’t it stand to reason that the head of the overriding body is really better suited to change the culture?  Doesn’t it make sense that if you ask yourself that questions enough times, you get to a single entity?

The answers to all the who questions should have been the same.  If yours were not, you need to go back and examine your answers.  In the end, there is only one entity in every organization that can meet all those requirements and that’s the most senior leader.

If you will accept that premise, does it make sense to start a Lean transformation anywhere below that level?  If you think that by demonstrating that Lean works, you can win the hearts and minds of the most senior leader and their staff, it's highly improbable.  In 30 years of practice, I’ve yet to see it happen even once.

Admittedly, some attempts lasted longer than others, but in the end, without the commitment of the most senior leader and their staff, the attempt failed.  As Dr. Deming would have said, “What a waste.”