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Five Lessons from High-Performing Lean Teams

What do these organizations have in common? How have they integrated lean and matured alongside it?

When developing lean strategies, you must first look to organizational success beyond your own company. What do the high performers in your industry have in common? What are they doing right? What’s an anomaly and what’s a trend? What can be replicated or tweaked by your own organization? Asking questions is not a sign of weakness; it’s the path to strength and success.

What Do High-Performing Lean Teams Say?

In 2016, Planview sent out its first Lean Business Survey to leaders across a variety of industries to gather as much information and data points on how they were applying lean in leadership, knowledge work, and manufacturing concepts. We received more than 3,000 responses from 75 countries. The goal of this survey was to answer these aforementioned questions and maybe, just maybe, come up with some new ones along the way. The findings were compiled into the Lean Business Report, a narrative of the lean business organizational movement that shows how it has transformed some of the world’s most important organizations, often through one high-performing team at a time.

Through all of this discourse, we became utterly fascinated with a few questions: what do these organizations have in common? What  lean strategies are transcending specific industries and pushing teams to becoming super-performers? How have these teams integrated lean and matured alongside it? And what insights can be gleaned from their efforts as other teams look at new and exciting ways to adopt lean?

Well, there were a lot. Fortunately, we were able to whittle it down to five distinct lessons that can be learned from these high-performing teams. Depending on your team or manufacturing scheme, some of these lessons may prove more pertinent than others. If you can consider all five and think about how they apply to you and your organization, the right steps towards efficiency will be set in motion.

Lesson #1: Recruit the Support of an Executive Sponsor

Our first lesson comes from the fact that adopting  lean may require organizations to drastically transform the philosophy of their manufacturing principles. Unfortunately, dramatic changes to organizational philosophy rarely happen overnight. Beyond that, such radical changes necessitate the support of people in executive positions to back the proceeding. Time and effort will be needed to establish  lean principles, and results may not be immediate.

This is where getting an executive sponsor of the project can be remarkably beneficial. Having the backing of someone in the boardroom that understands the value of  lean, can turn around and convey its principle to their peers, and provide support in terms of guidance to the team along the way is nothing short of critical. To put a number on it, 69% of survey respondent teams stated that executive sponsorship was their most useful tactic in attaining success.

Lesson #2: Don’t Worry Too Much About Experience

Our survey data added that while lean performance certainly correlates with increased experience utilizing the skills, beginners should avoid feeling discouraged. Nearly 88% of lean team respondents that identified themselves as beginners reported moderate to significant improvements in project success rate. As they continued to mature with lean, this success rate regularly advanced as well. Gains may feel small or even insignificant at times during the early stages, but if you keep with the program, you will reach your goals sooner rather than later.

Lesson #3: Avoid Being a Jack of All Trades, Master of None

When you’re starting out with lean, it’s very common to feel overwhelmed and want to try out every lean strategy available with your team like Kanban boards, Continuous Flow, OODA Loops. You may want to dive in headfirst and initiate all strategies, but don’t do that.

Data and lean are intertwined. Correlations are tough to arrive at when dozens of variables are at play. Pick a couple of lean strategies, introduce them to your team, decide on the most appealing and run with them. Learn them. Tweak them. Perfect them. Then keep perfecting them. Then, once you feel like you’ve mastered the strategy, add another strategy.

Lesson #4: Focus on Flow

The end goal of lean is to optimize the flow of value to the customer. Using dynamic insights from our customers, lean teams make informed choices in altering production or eliminating waste to achieve this goal. High-performing teams know that flow has to be a conscious priority. Always.

Survey respondents indicated that focusing on flow was constantly a top priority. Compared to low-performers, high-performing teams were significantly more likely to prioritize goals related to flow, such as increased team productivity, better change management, and more efficient processes.

Lesson #5: Sit Back and Enjoy the Journey

Every team, every organization, and every individual will have their own unique journey on the path to lean. Try as you may to replicate another successful organization, ultimately, you’ll have to embrace that your path will differ in some ways. Certain high-performing teams are a product of an organization-wide lean philosophy, while others take the lead themselves and adopt lean practices that wind up influencing the whole organization.

The most important thing is that the team stays in sync through the process. It will be challenging at first, but the results are well worth it. According to our high-performers, consistency is the key to success. Use common tools, consistent practices, and common language throughout. Stay patient and continuously obsess over metrics. Rely on data—not “gut” instincts, the highest paid person’s opinion, or past experience. These are traps. Instead, stay consistent with your strategies and don’t veer at the first sign of struggle. Trust the process and use the data to your advantage, and watch  lean revolutionize your team.

Jon Terry is chief evangelist, lean-agile strategy, at Planview, a work and resource management solutions company. He earned his global executive MBA from Georgetown University and ESADE Business School in Barcelona, Spain.

 

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