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Losing Control of Your Lean Journey

Feb. 6, 2015
Your leadership team, not the lean team, should own the lean plan.

Continuing our theme focused on designing and managing your lean journey, many manage a pivotal transition point poorly. That moment is when you reach a critical mass of engagement and things start to take off. Push for lean converts to pull for lean. Up to this point, nearly everything that happened in the name of lean occurred because of a critical few leaders. Now things start happening beyond the control of the lean roadmap. Do you adjust your strategy to meet the change?

1. The lean team shouldn't own the lean roadmap. This is often the hardest adjustment to make. It doesn't matter whether there is a formalized lean team, or more of a lean "guiding coalition." The lean plan likely dictated most activities.

The lean plan should be more integrated with the objectives and focus of the organization. So should the lean team still own the lean plan, or should the leadership of the organization own it? I strongly believe the latter. This comes at a price. When someone else that doesn't eat, breath and sleep lean like you do designs the plan, it might not be the best possible plan. But it's now an owned plan, and people have more commitment to a plan they own. Just as important for awareness, it is no longer your plan, and so as a lean leader, you must come to terms with helping other people achieve their plans. Too few lean change agents successfully manage that transition.

In one large multidivision company, the lean team was struggling for traction. We facilitated the executive team through the development of a roadmap. Instead of celebrating the sudden increase in engagement from the executives, the lean team was worried that the plan wasn't quite right. It certainly had some flaws, but those could be fixed. The increase in executive engagement was nearly a silver bullet for achieving more with lean.

2. Stop coaching, and begin developing coaches. As you begin to build critical mass, the number of people asking for coaching grows exponentially. The coaches cannot keep up. So they replace coaching with more efficient training so they can cover more people. Or sacrifice the quality of coaching. Or serve a handful and leave the rest wanting.

Developing coaches is a combination of developing lean capability and developing coaching capability.

Instead, stop coaching and start focusing on developing a legion of coaches distributed throughout the organization. Coaches should be everywhere. One of my favorite assessment questions is, "Can you find a coach when you need one?" If someone is on third shift and all the coaches are on first shift, then they aren't accessible. Coaches need to be in the work, at the moment of need. Developing coaches is a combination of developing lean capability and developing coaching capability. Don't assume subject matter expertise is sufficient to be a coach.

3. Don't just measure the measurable. Early in the lean roadmap you usually measure activity, which in turn drives understanding. But activity is not the true measure of a lean success. In Detroit, one automotive supplier had billboards all over town touting how many kaizen events they have run. The billboards are gone, as is the company.

As you reach this critical mass, measuring activity is another form of control. You are inadvertently saying that only the "officially sanctioned" lean activities matter. This is counterproductive. Pay attention to the ratio of the informal lean to the formal lean. Do you see A3s and process maps scratched out on whiteboards and people on the floor performing observation, or can you only see these things in an event under a facilitator? Don't actually turn this into a metric; it is more of an observation. But I believe it is the ultimate measure of lean success.

Flipping from push to pull requires giving up control of the journey. You can guide, you can coach and you can contribute. But lean is now the organization's journey and not just yours. And isn't that what we wanted all along?

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