Thursday, November 17, 2005

Lean Leadership

In his post, "Book Review: Creating a Lean Culture," Mark Graban of the Lean Manufacturing Blog says:

"A friend gave me a copy of a book he recommended: Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions, by David Mann. "Based on a first look, I am very impressed with the book. It focuses on creating a "lean management" culture that must work hand in hand with the "lean manufacturing" tools. Many of realize that using the "lean tools" is not enough, that you need a dramatic change in management habits and behaviors to sustain lean and truly reach your potential. Chapter 3 is particularly noteworthy, "Standard Work for Leaders." This is one of the few books, maybe other than Andy & Me and The Toyota Way series, that addresses this critical aspect of lean. Visiting NUMMI, they certainly emphasized that the behaviors of the team leaders and all management was critical to their success. A few excerpts and key points (his words in bold and my paraphrasing and thoughts in italics).

  • "On this journey you learn to impose on yourself [as a leader] the same kind of disciplined adherence to process you now expect of operators in following their standard work." Mann also points out that, while operators might be following standard work 100% of the time, a supervisor might only be following standard work 80% of the day. As you go higher up in the organization, there's a reduction in how much of their day is standardized.
  • Mann emphasizes a hierarchy of audits and checks, where production status might be checked several times an hour by team leaders, checked by supervisors four or more times a shift, and by value stream managers (or plant managers) once or twice a shift. Each level above is auditing to make sure that the level below them is following THEIR standard work.
  • "The second benefit is that leader standard work quickly allows an organization to raise the game of the existing leadership staff, or highlight those unable to make the transition." Basically, if a leader can't follow their own standard work, and that's been documented, it makes it easier to see who isn't process focused and who might need replacing. Not all leaders can make the transition to a lean world.
  • According to Mann, the "Four Principal Elements of Lean Management" are: 1 Leader standard work , 2 Visual controls , 3 Daily accountability process, and , 4 Leadership discipline"

While the language of Mark's post is different from what I use in the model, A Vision of Leadership (now Leadership for Collaboration and Innovation), I am wondering if there may be some important parallels and I welcome feedback from lean enterprise practitioners.

What caught my attention was the description of operators performing 100% standard work, a supervisor 80% standard work and that percentage being reduced progressively at higher levels in the organization. Standard work appears to be very similar to what I have called Implementation - work accomplished according to some pre-determined process or plan. Non-standard work sounds similar to what I have called Innovation - it is new, normally created in response to a new need and not done before by that person or in that process or situation. I am delighted to discover that there is a formalized body of practice that specifically acknowledges standard and non-standard work in the context of leadership.

The model suggests that everyone, whether leading or following is involved in a mixture of innovation and implementation. Earlier I have offered that the most important leadership skill may be about deciding when to lead and when to follow. Now I recognize there is another skill having similar importance, that is bringing to bear the mix of innovation and implementation most appropriate to the circumstances*. At the extremes, there is no point in inventing a new process if the present one is most effective and conversely, when a process is ineffective it is inappropriate to continue implementing it without innovating a solution. This, surely, is true wherever one is in a hierarchy.

While less familiar with lean manufacturing, I recall the quality circle approach, imported from Toyota in the early 80's to create the environment in which production line workers take full responsibility for their output, i.e. take a leadership role in refining their work process as well as following by implementing it. Conversely, of course, no experienced manager spends all his time dreaming up the next big thing and forgetting to supervise the day-to-day components of the business that serve (follow) the immediate needs of his/her stakeholders. Each is a leader and follower and each is striving to reach an appropriate balance between "standard" and "non-standard work."

Thank you Mark. Your post leads me to consider whether the kind of leadership I am describing is lean leadership.


* I recognize these skills I identify are a direct consequence of building a model based upon the four values, lead, follow, innovate and implement. In my experience of leadership I have observed these as fundamental. Now is it becoming clear that the model shows how making decisions about which of these values are important in a given situation are important leadership practices, implicit in the model and in addition to those described in other posts. In terms of the geometry of the model, this tetrahedron need not be symmetrical or static and its proportions can represent the emphasis given to specific values according to the circumstances, i.e. it is a situational model. This is a subject worth exploring in future posts.


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