There are over 1,000 Lean tools and counting that can be used to improve processes and help a business become more Lean. All of them have a time and place but you can achieve remarkable success by doing just a small handful of things really well. So put away your stack of Lean books and close the 90 web pages showering you with overkill Continuous Improvement advice. This article will provide you a simple formula that will help you develop an unstoppable Lean Culture.
Element #1) Strategy Deployment
You need to be clear on what will help the company win in the market. The few things that will generate the greatest success for your company, is your strategy. Then you need a seamless method for deploying these priorities throughout the organization. Your deployment method must leave no employee behind. This means each and every person working in your company needs to understand their role in delivering the strategy and commit to clearly defined improvement objectives for their area of ownership. Each person should establish a target condition that is an improvement on the current condition. This becomes their Continuous Improvement plan – all of which should clearly connect up to the highest ranking leader’s plan. Remember that making progress against your strategy is the very definition of improvement. Any side steps, aka random changes, are a waste of precious resources.
Element #2) A Mechanism for Improving
You need to develop the skill of everyone in your company to make sustainable improvements. The de-facto method for this is called PDCA or Plan-Do-Check-Act. You’re probably familiar with this term or one of it’s many variants. Essentially it’s just a spin off of using the scientific method to discover the truth about your business processes and make changes that work. The only way to do this is good old fashioned trial and error. You form a hypothesis about what will get you better results, you test it, you observe the outcome, then you repeat this process until you discover the truth. This isn’t breakthrough thinking, but in practice, it usually falls apart in the testing and / or repeat as needed phase. The best way to form a hypothesis is to work with a cross-functional team of people close to the process to do a Root Cause Analysis. This gets you to the right answer with less time and effort invested. Just remember that the output of a RCA is just hypothesis that needs to be proven by making changes to the process. The key here is to be deliberate about driving action based on analysis. You need a good way to ensure actions are being executed so you can know from experience what’s really driving process results.
Element #3) Performance Measurement Tools
Without a good way of quantifying performance, you have no idea if you’re actually improving or sustaining results. You’ve probably heard the expression “go with your gut”, but in this case, don’t! You need the numbers. Which numbers you use will vary based on what you’re trying to improve. When it comes to manufacturing value stream execution, you have to go with OEE, or Overall Equipment Effectiveness. OEE is global gold standard. As you experiment with making changes to processes, you need to watch and see what happens to the performance metrics. When you’re really getting to the truth, you can use it to lever the numbers up or down by making the right changes.
Element #4) Leadership Coaching Mechanism
Leaders need to be able to coach their teams to overcome challenges as they work to close the gap to their target condition. This does not mean commanding certain actions that the leader thinks will get results. Commanding is not coaching! Good coaching is a iterative process that allows a person to learn from experience and repetition while the coach observes and provides guidance as needed. The intent is to develop talent and capability in the learner – specifically the talents of learning how to learn, solving problems, making decisions, and improving the process. As a coach, let the learner go as far as they can with their own ability. When they hit a brick wall, and maybe ask for help, give them as little help as needed to overcome the specific issue they’re struggling with. The beauty, and growth, is in the struggle. This may mean teaching them new Lean tools, connecting them with resources, or providing some impromptu therapy. Be flexible – and teach them in the way that they learn best. But just know that the moment you as a leader become disengaged from the coaching process, the learner is likely to disengage as well from the improvement process. Besides, developing the talent of your people is one of your most important jobs.
Element #5) Engagement Mechanism
A Lean Culture is made up of a million small everyday wins. Leaders need to have visibility to these wins as they happen so they can recognize and encourage further progress and success. A person who is striving to improve their process and getting results should not go quarters, months, or even weeks without their leaders realizing and rewarding them for it. This lag time is demotivating. Leaders need to be on top of their game, just as they expect their teams to be.
All this may seem difficult to do if you’re already too busy and don’t have the tools in place to handle these activities effectively. This is where having the right technology makes a world of a difference. Heck, even Toyota has abandoned the old way of thinking that all Lean Tools should be manual processes. They were “suddenly motivated” to adopt technology once they saw themselves falling behind in the market. Fortunately for you and everyone else, technologies like Impruver.com provide enterprise-wide access to the most cutting edge methods that delivers all of the elements mentioned above plus more. Check the videos to the right of this page and click here to learn more.