Leading Lean Means Walking the Walk
Mark A. Thomson
If your vision for keeping your manufacturing company lean involves drawing up a plan and then telling your floor supervisors to make it happen, good luck. Lean leadership is a hands-on value proposition — one you cannot overlook if you want your manufacturing operations to go lean.
Your role as top executive of a lean operation is to be an agent of change. You need to be revolutionary, rather than evolutionary. But the revolution will not happen unless you teach your employees, from management to maintenance, to become leaders with you.
To do that, examine how your company operates today. If its focus is on satisfying the chain of command and designing additional policies and procedures to address problems, you have a bureaucracy. Correct this by using lean strategies yourself to demonstrate their value. Here are some ways to start:
Eliminating waste is a team effort. Be sure your employees understand, accept and employ lean thinking strategies and that everyone is working from the same definition of “lean.”
Pose questions to your team that challenge the status quo, and then ask them to help create answers. Do not provide the answers yourself, and be ready to set aside some of your own preconceptions when a staffer suggests a better alternative.
Lean leaders are managers. Set goals and create action plans to achieve them. You also need to make decisions to keep things moving if teams are becoming bogged down in analyses.
Encourage everyone in your company to develop the skills they need to sustain a world-class operation. Then help them use their skills to constantly resolve problems that hinder efficiency.
Encourage creativity and innovation to reshape your corporate culture into one of problem-solving and excellence. Help everyone in the company recognize that they can find and eliminate waste right on their own desks, if they look for it.
Further encourage more ideas by rewarding those that make a contribution to improving the process. It can be money, it can be time off or other non-expensive prizes that will motivate them to continue participating.
One point to emphasize throughout the lean process is that lean requires everyone to look at value from your customers’ point of view. Waste is anything the customer does not want to pay for. A product is not one of high quality because it is difficult and costly to produce; it is so because high-quality products provide value to customers. Ask yourself, how often have you had this discussion with your supervisors, let alone the workers on the floor? Management is often surprised at the number of good ideas the team develops. Surprisingly, the workers were just waiting for someone to ask.
Add Value Through Leadership
The road to excellence in lean manufacturing can be never-ending. However, if you excel in lean leadership, you can add value to the bottom line. For assistance on adopting lean manufacturing principles, contact Mark Thomson at [email protected] or call him at 312.670.7444.