Saturday, 22 September 2012 17:03

Four Challenges of Managing in a Lean Environment, Part 1

Written by  Scott Zimmerman
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Four Challenges of Managing in a Lean Environment, Part 1

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit. ~Aristotle

If we have an overarching goal as an organization, wouldn’t it be ‘habitual excellence’?  How do we adopt that habit?  Since the success of every project, every initiative, every department-wide goal depends upon executive support, it follows that excellence itself depends on management. If we want to create an excellent Lean organization, we have to manage that way – there must be a corollary to Lean operations.  We must manage a Lean environment using Lean principles.

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The Lean Workplace is a dynamic one.  The work process is more transparent, it changes to meet customer demand, and engaged workers demand more of their managers. The purpose of this series of discussions is to present common challenges to managers in a Lean environment, and outline some proven methods to overcome them.

Management is comprised of four interdependent functions:  Leading, Planning, Organizing and Controlling.  Each has its own challenges.  Let’s examine the Lean Manager’s perspective for them in order.

Leading - What is the Lean Approach? 

Challenge:  Communicating accomplishments, priorities, and maintaining morale

The first thing a Lean Manager understands is that the organization needs leadership.  Your department needs someone to lead and, in the process, assume the role of the other facets of management – the aforementioned Planning, Organizing and Controlling functions.  [And we are talking here about Control in the sense of process control – not the dysfunctional, pop-psychology term ‘controlling’.]  There is no substitute for good leadership, though, to maintain morale and ensure the team is meeting the standards of behavior and performance.

Leadership at gemba

Proper leadership is a very public role.  It requires communication as an active listener and as the voice of the Planner, Organizer and Measurer to give direction.  The Lean Leader strikes a balance between directing activity and seeking information from the workplace.

Part of the leader’s role is to be out where work is performed (“gemba”) in order to build morale. The psychological sciences tell us that people hear negative feedback 2-3 times louder than positive reinforcement.  Therefore, to have an effect, encouragement must be communicated much more often than censure.  In The One-Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard urges leaders to “catch people doing something right”.  Even Dale Carnegie, dating back to the 1930’s, recommended being “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise” for best results.  Lean leaders observe and make correction, but also view their role as truly setting a positive example.

The other mission for the leader when touring gemba is to understand how work is being performed.  The Lean leader is a problem-solver and a disseminator of process knowledge, and so he or she is out in the workplace to go see and ask why.  This is especially true in a Lean workplace, where process changes are occurring as part of the work effort.  Some of the performance information is used as input for the planning, organizing, and measurement roles that the Lean Manager plays, and some should be immediately reflected back to the workforce.

People performing the work (adding value) in the operation need and want to know how they’re doing and what needs to be done next.  While they’re busy working away in their compartment of the ship, they need someone who’s been topside to tell them what ocean they’re in and what waters they’re headed toward.  That’s a key role of the leader – learning and disseminating useful information to the team.

Next time:  Planning and Organizing







Last modified on Monday, 29 October 2012 23:52

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