Clarity: Where is management?


You stand with a team that is presenting a kaizen effort. Is it clear which direction their next step should take?

Kaizen is the bedrock of lean practice. As a leader, your first step to getting going for real in lean is to support all teams in practicing kaizen, and then to systematically visit them, as they go through the six steps and when they present their final finding.

Supporting the kaizen spirit, the key to a lean culture, is not about this kaizen, but the team’s impetus to pick the next kaizen topic.

As you stand there congratulating the team, is it clear if you stand in their shoes, which direction their next improvement should take.

In many cases, teams are great: they pick a topic for performance improvement, analyze their current method, imagine new ideas, try them out and test them, have a plan to roll the changes out and what would be needed to make these changes sustainable and some idea of, after the fact, this was a good change or not.


But where is management?

The leadership role is to figure out the key challenges for the business and express this in a way that all can relate to. These goals must be specific enough to be visualized, and generic enough to apply to every one. For instance:

  • seek customer smiles (Toyota)
  • reduce breakdowns from 9 per million kilometers to 8 (train maintenance operation)

Management’s work is to convince every one, every day, that if these challenges are met, the business will be ahead of the game, so that any employee can see a practical way to contribute:

  • How does improving this process increases the likelihood of customer smiles?
  • How does changing this technical practice make trains run longer without breakdown?

Leaders generally have many ideas of where they’d like the business to go, but without a clear expression of these intentions in a way that all teams can relate to it’s hard to engage value-adding level staff in improvement. Worse, when they do, it’s hard to see how these improvements will impact the business, and develop a sense of contribution and togetherness.

In lean thinking, clarity is not about giving clear instructions, but giving a clear sense of direction for improvement so any one can use their initiative and creativity to help the business along and participate in its success.


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