The Lean Office Blog

Lean Manager – Improvement Projects, or Improve the Process?

Today’s topic focuses on how to improve processes by implementing a Lean Management System.

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”

-Mark Twain

A professor in my MBA program gave us some career advice as we were heading off to find work: Do everything in your power to find a career managing projects versus managing a process. Projects change and expose you to new ideas and learning opportunities, and they provide higher-profile opportunities for career advancement.

I think this advice is very true in many circumstances, but I find it runs counter to the wisdom preached through Lean methodology. Continuous continuous improvementimprovement, one of the fundamental tenets of Lean thinking, requires intimate knowledge of a process in order to, well, continuously improve a process. This cannot be achieved through managing improvement projects alone.

There seems to be a lot of Lean coaching and effort focused around short-term, high-effort activities like Kaizen events and value stream mapping sessions. While these are both critical components of Lean thinking, they represent at best half of the total effort required.

This post focuses on the other half, and attempts to explain why I now see better process management as the preferred line of work for an aspiring Lean manager. Not only are results more likely to be sustained, but you gain a deeper understanding of the overall process, and develop a more meaningful relationship with your team. How do you achieve better management of your team’s processes? It requires understanding current state and measuring against it, having a team of people who take ownership of identifying and helping to solve problems, and a leader who holds the team accountable through frequent PDCA. David Mann highlights these as the critical components of something called the Lean Management System

  • Visual Controls-In order for the team to be able to “Know as a group, see as a group, and act as a group”, there must be visual controls in lean management systemplace. You can find out more about benefits and strategies for implementing Visual Management here.
  • Daily Accountability- In order for improvements to be sustained, there must be frequent accountability. Metrics that are displayed and not reviewed will not improve. In the same way, processes that are only maintained by individuals will slowly deviate from the standard.
  • Leader Standard Work-In addition to conducting gemba walks to “go and see” the process, leader standard work includes things like leading startup meetings, reviewing labor allocation, and assisting team members with improvement activities. Leaders can use tools to help manage their daily work  and increase participation and buy-in across leadership.

While many new Lean managers will focus on learning how to correctly conduct a Kaizen event, or lead a value stream mapping session, the daily grind of fighting entropy by employing a Lean Management System is equally, if not more, important.

Do you have specific questions, or want help implementing a Lean Management System in your office? We’re here to help! You can reach me here.

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