Womack Sees Positive Growth In Lean Management

Dec. 1, 2006
Next phase in the lean journey.

Note: This excerpt is taken from an eNewsletter produced by Jim Womack's Lean Enterprise Institute.

I now see signs that the lean movement is finally tackling the fundamental issues of lean management. I've recently had a number of conversations in a number of countries -- the U.S., Germany, China -- with senior managers who realize that they need to think more about lean management before thinking further about lean tools.

How can "lean management" help? Here are three simple elements of lean management worthy of experimentation:

  • Make sure every value stream has someone responsible for overseeing the whole flow of value and continually improving every aspect of the process in light of the needs of the customer and the business.

    The question for this value-stream manager to ask is, "How can I make customers happy while making money by engaging the full energies of our people to improve this value stream?"

    Note that the value-stream manager doesn't need a large staff or authority over employees touching the value stream. Instead, the value-stream manager needs to negotiate with the department heads about the needs of the product and resolve any differences by appeal to the most senior managers.

    Similarly, no employee should have more than one boss. A good system of value-stream management gives every lower-level employee a boss in his or her department who has determined in conversation with the value-stream manager what that department needs to do to support the value stream. This avoids complex matrices in which employees have two (or more) bosses.

  • Instead of developing complex metrics, ask value-stream managers how they will improve the value-creating process they are overseeing.

    If managers focus on their process, the performance metrics will come right; but if managers focus on their numbers, the process is likely never to improve. And note that most metrics are nothing more than end-of-the-line quality inspection: At the end of the quarter or the end of the year everyone looks to see what happened, at a point long after the mistakes have been made.
  • Teach all managers to ask questions about their value streams (rather than giving answers and orders from higher levels.) Turn these questions into experiments using Plan-Do-Check-Act.

    Only management by science through constant experimentation to answer questions can produce sustainable improvements in value streams. (Toyota's A3 is a wonderful management tool for putting science to work and I'll have more to say about it in the next few months.)

    Please understand: Lean tools are great. We all need to master and deploy them, and our efforts of the last 15 years to do so are not wasted. But just as a carpenter needs a vision of what to build in order to get the full benefit of a hammer, we need a clear vision of our organizational objectives and better management methods before we pick up our lean tools.

    Lean management is the key to doing this. We don't yet know all the elements but discovering and deploying them is the challenge we all need to tackle in the next stage of the lean movement.

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