Lean Survey Says Managers Have a Lot to Learn

July 19, 2011
Data suggest companies still don't understand the essential role culture plays in a lean implementation.

Implementing lean throughout an organization is tough enough if everyone embraces its philosophies and willingly does the work required to make the change happen. However, its that much tougher if management is less than supportive of the effort or doesnt understand the essential role it plays in developing a lean culture.

Indeed, managerial behavior is the linchpin to developing a truly lean culture, says lean consultant Lawrence M. Miller, who recently completed a survey about lean culture and leadership factors.

If one fact seems glaringly clear in the face of the survey results, its this: Managers still have a lot to learn when it comes to implementing lean.

So suggest the approximately 80 lean implementers who responded to Millers survey. They located the survey either via Millers blog, Management Meditations, or via participation in the NWLean Yahoo discussion group or a lean Six Sigma LinkedIn forum.

Important Factors are Poorly Executed

These lean implementers suggest that in many cases managers are doing poor jobs of executing factors the respondents believe are important to a successful lean implementation.

For example, survey respondents identified leadership creating a strong sense of purpose as the most important factor (among the options presented) to driving a lean implementation. Yet the gap between this factors importance and how well respondents believe the factor is being executed is among the highest in the survey.

Similarly, while respondents reported high trust between employees and managers as among the most important factors (No. 6), it also ranked in the top 10 when it came to factors that were most deficient in execution.

The top five factors identified as the most important are:

  • Creating a sense of purpose
  • Managers have instilled a spirit of teamwork.
  • Promoting strong values
  • Leaders are effective at engaging team members.
  • Leaders have created employee empowerment.

For all five factors, respondents report that execution falls far short of what is needed.

What factor scored the worst in terms of execution? Leader standard work fared the worst, a response Miller thought would surprise some lean practitioners given that it has become a commonly accepted part of lean culture.

"It did surprise me that the execution was rated as low as it was," says Miller, who is the author of several books, including "Lean Culture -- The Leaders Guide." "I think the big issue here, reflected in this question and others, is that managers in many companies have not yet understood that implementing lean manufacturing means that they must change their own behavior."

On the other hand, survey respondents didn't identify leader standard work as among the top factors required for a lean implementation, a ranking with which Miller disagreed. "I think it is much more important to achieving a lean culture than others apparently do," he wrote in his analysis of the survey results.

Problem with Problem-Solving

The five most poorly executed factors, according to survey respondents:

  • Managers have defined leader standard work.
  • Most managers engage in disciplined problem-solving.
  • Managers are able to facilitate team meetings to follow a disciplined problem-solving model.
  • Every employee is a member of a team.
  • Managers can show a visual map of their processes.

On the plus side, the factor with the smallest gap between importance and execution was that managers are highly competent in the technical work for which they are responsible.

Miller says the survey results reinforced many of his own beliefs, the primary one being that most companies have not understood the degree to which the culture, managements own behavior, is an absolutely essential component of lean implementation. "It is always easier to change the nuts and bolts, and harder to change ones own habits and beliefs. Management needs a lot of coaching in many of these companies."

To view the complete survey results and Millers analysis, click here.

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