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Lessons from the Road: Getting the Most from Your Lean Deep Dive

Create the right environment, clarify roles and have a roadmap.

In my last column, I explained the purpose and selection of a deep dive of lean. The focus of going an inch wide and mile-deep on your lean transformation can reduce risk while accelerating your learning. In this installment, I will explore how to deploy this change strategy.

Create the right environment. You are asking a team to get out of their comfort zone and get ahead of everyone else. They likely didn’t really sign up for that challenge. You must create a safe environment for them to experiment. Safe doesn’t just mean physical safety, but emotional safety and professional or job safety. Without that safety, it is difficult to ask people to jump off the proverbial cliff without a safety harness.

Clarify roles. For most of the team that is going on this adventure, their job is apply lean skills and methods to solve the problem in front of them and create better results. That includes the leadership roles within the team. They can’t stand aside and “allow” their team to engage; they must engage as well. They must learn how to change their work to support problem-solving and continuous improvement. Often, the front-line supervision has the most dramatic changes to go through. And someone has to be responsible for the learning journey itself—owning the change management, including the roadmap for which methods to introduce and how quickly to introduce them.

Have a roadmap. Since the purpose is to create a model of what your lean journey should look like for everyone, you need a clear picture of what you are trying to create, and a roadmap to get there. Most roadmaps are primarily a sequence of the methods, tools, and systems to plan to deploy: team huddles, waste elimination, standardization, problem-solving, leader standard work, and so on. The sequence does matter, quite a lot. For example, I witnessed one organization deploy five different methods that were designed to make problems visible, but they hadn’t learned one method to solve those problems. The result was list upon list of exposed problems without much progress in making them better, leading to frustration.

Because this is a learning journey, it is important to be flexible with the roadmap. Like a real roadmap, you might run into a roadblock and have to take a detour. You want to be able to take that detour but still end up at your destination eventually. That roadblock could be a change in business conditions, a change in leadership, or newly identified needs that encourage you to move specific lean methods up in the timeline.

Prepare to export the knowledge. As covered in the previous column, the purpose of an inch-wide, mile-deep model area isn’t just to transform that target application area, but to be a beacon of learning for the rest of the organization. To accomplish that purpose, you must have a plan for exporting that knowledge. What most organizations do—which almost always fails—is to wait for the end of the process and then examine how to export it. I have visited dozens of companies where they had deployed such a strategy, but it either died or they could not even remember what area they were focusing on. The reason is they stopped with creating the model area and failed to have a plan to leverage it.

There are two primary vehicles to export that knowledge: artifacts and people. Artifacts could be systems of work, training materials, reference guides, and even the roadmap used itself. They are a “starter kit” for another team of function to begin their own deep dive.

People is a little more complicated. Most efforts try to share the knowledge through people after the fact. This is like visiting a museum; it’s not quite like the real thing. Witnessing a model area and experiencing it are two different ways to learn, with the latter far more effective.

Have a plan for experiencing the journey for others who would benefit from the learning. Then your model area becomes a catalyst for change.

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