Posts Tagged lean leadership

Strategy Deployment: Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey

I remember, years ago, watching my oldest child struggle in his attempt to loosen a bolt. This was one of those all too few, brief, and shining child-rearing moments where I could easily and quickly share some trusty words of wisdom.

“Righty tighty, lefty loosey.”

I’m pretty sure that my son’s response was somewhere in the vicinity of, “Huh?” Not the effect that I was looking for necessarily.

…Nevertheless, I’m going to try to apply the same advice, but to a different subject (totally without threaded parts).

Strategy deployment (a.k.a. policy deployment, hoshin kanri, etc.).


Well, specifically, I’m talking about strategy deployment x-matrices and the direction in which they should be developed…which is clockwise.

Righty tighty is good. Lefty loosey, or counterclockwise, and the whole thing unwinds. Not good.



We must remember that matrices are tools. They are a way to capture and communicate thinking, facilitate discussion and improvement (through practices like catchball) and, in the event of strategy deployment, aid in vertical and horizontal alignment within the organization.

The standard, neck-craning, x-matrix clocks the reader typically through the following generic elements for an organization (think corporation, business group, business unit, plant, etc.), while cascading through the appropriate organizational levels:

  • 3 to 5 year breakthrough objectives, to
  • the relevant annual objectives, to
  • the relevant annual improvement priorities or strategic initiatives, to
  • the targets and means or deliverables,
  • while identifying who is responsible for the deliverables (and ultimately getting the point of impact where a person actually is required to execute)

This sequence is clockwise on the x-matrix. Clearly, it can be read clockwise or counterclockwise. But, it should only be BUILT clockwise.

Righty tighty!

Why is that?

Well, as Taiichi Ohno is credited with saying, “Start from need.”

We don’t start with targets and means (which are fancy words for countermeasures). We start with the organization’s relatively long term breakthrough objectives, which oh, by the way are guided by the business’ true north, competitive market realities, and the like.

This is where the thinking starts and is preferably rigorous and guided by things like hoshin A3’s and proposal A3’s (and, where appropriate, problem A3’s). All require, at some level, the users to grasp the situation and articulate the rationale.

Implicit in this is an understanding of the causal relationships. It does not facilitate “loosey” counterclockwise leaps to justify pet countermeasures by thinking up annual improvement priorities and breakthrough objectives.

So, just like we don’t build an A3 right to left, we must only build our x-matrices right tighty…and with the requisite thinking.

Related posts: Strategy – First Formulate, THEN DeployWhy Bowling Charts? Trajectory Matters!

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Build the Lean Management System and the Behaviors Will Come. Not Exactly.

OK, I know that what I’m about to say may sound cynical, but 20 years of personal, hard knock lean experience tells me that this is reality. And most folks I think would, or at least should (I hope), agree with me.

The majority of companies pursuing a lean implementation do so superficially. (Did I just hear you yawn?!)

Many fail to understand the transformational lean principles, much less have the will to rigorously live them. Lean wannabes are attracted by and then reproduce the easily reproducible “shiny objects” and “eye candy.” The objects and candy are the tools and trinkets that are seen in books, seminars, and drive-by benchmark visits (a.k.a. industrial tourism).

Lean management systems are chock full of shiny objects – huddle (a.k.a. tier or reflection meeting or metric) boards, leader standardized work, visual process adherence tools, suggestion boards, task accountability boards, etc. But these things are just things.

An advertisement that I spied on the backside of a Philadelphia area bus is pretty darn profound…and relevant,

Until you know what it really means, it doesn’t mean much.

In other words, just having trinkets doesn’t make a lean management system. In fact, a trinket-only system is pure muda.

So, what ANIMATES a lean management system? What is its soul?

Lean leadership behaviors.

Now, I prescribe to the notion that an organization can act its way into a new way of being, as reflected in the figure below.

principles in action

BUT, lean principles in action are initiated, taught, coached, and reinforced by lean leaders largely through their behaviors within the context of the lean management system.

What the heck does that mean? Behaviorally speaking:

  • Instilling discipline. Human systems don’t naturally gravitate to discipline and rigor. Effective leaders readily model, promote, and enforce discipline first and foremost by doing their own leader standardized work.
  • Prompting critical thinking. Critical thinking and lean thinking go hand-in-hand. Most folks, at least initially, are deficient in both. Leaders develop the critical thinking skills of team members by consistently prompting reflection by asking open ended questions and resisting the almost irresistible urge to tell and fix. And, lean thinking is infused, explicitly and implicitly in everything.
  • Facilitating daily kaizen. Daily kaizen doesn’t just happen spontaneously. Most companies have, accidentally and/or purposefully, smothered the kaizen spirit and failed to develop the necessary technical capabilities. Lean leaders constantly coach folks to aggressively identify and acknowledge opportunities (and prioritize them when appropriate), identify root causes, formulate and execute countermeasures, and then follow-through. This is a powerful mix of know-how and behavior that leverages critical thinking, challenge, creativity, and the freedom to fail.
  • Coaching personal kaizen. Here lean leaders coach folks to apply critical thinking for their own personal development. Coach guided self-reflection yields the identification of personal behavioral and performance gaps and ultimately, the formulation of coachee-owned personal countermeasures with a follow-up plan that the coach can check on. Over time, the coachee should eventually be able to use the same methods to coach others.

This stuff just doesn’t magically appear when the huddle boards are populated and hung-up and the first huddle is conducted or when the leaders conduct their standardized work audits, etc. Indeed, that’s just wishful thinking.

Only proper lean leadership behaviors and technical know-how can animate the accoutrements of the lean management system. And, that can only happen if at least a nucleus of the leaders possess those things to begin with…or who have ready access to one who can coach them.

Related posts: Lean Management System: Accountability’s Four Questions and Two Tools, 6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings, Why Do You Ask?


Lean Should Be a Pain in the #*%!

We’re all familiar with the Toyota Production System “house.” You know, the structure schematic with, among other things, the just-in-time and jidoka pillars.

Well, sometimes I think it would be more appropriate to refer to the house, any lean house, as a house of pain.


Not great for lean marketing purposes, necessarily. But, there is more than a bit of truth to this notion of lean pain.

Here we’re not talking about pain in some sort of sadistic or masochistic way. This type of pain is value-added in that it spurs quick recognition and meaningful response to stop that particular pain forever…all for the purpose of making things easier, better, faster, and cheaper.

Sure, we could try to avoid pain. Most normal people don’t like pain. But, as the old cliché goes, “No pain, no gain.” And by gain, we mean continuous improvement and organizational learning.

So, what is a primary building block (pillar, foundation, etc.) of this house of pain?

I’m thinking continuous flow (it’s part of the just-in-time pillar, by the way) is a great candidate, among many. There’s nothing quite like operating with a lot size of one. Continuous flow provides no place to run OR hide.

It will never be mistaken as a morphine replacement.

Of course, lean’s pain is somewhat compassionate, in a big picture sort of way. It does not seek to kill or incapacitate. That would NOT be value-added.

How could you possibly satisfy the customer in such a condition?! How would that square with respect for the individual?

So instead, lean’s pain is more gradually and strategically applied. As an example, we strive for continuous flow, but often the more pragmatic (and temporary) approach includes a measure of supermarket pull and/or sequential pull (a.k.a. FIFO lanes). For a batch-and-queue operation, that’s pain enough…for now.

This isn’t quite Shewhart-esque or Deming-esque, but the lean pain cycle might go something like the following:

  1. Enable/facilitate pain – for example, implement continuous flow.
  2. Recognize the pain when it comes (and it will come, if you’re appropriately aggressive) – visual controls are critical for early recognition.
  3. Respond to the pain – think line stop jidoka, along with andon response.
  4. Make the specific pain go away – first aid may be more along the lines of containment, but permanent pain elimination requires real problem solving.
  5. Repeat.

[LSS Academy’s and Gemba Academy’s Ron Pereira shared an excellent video a while back that explained the true meaning of the Chinese characters constituting the word “kaizen.”  In all seriousness, it has something to do with self-flagellation, sheep, and altars! True story. The subject of pain is definitely front and center. Go here to see Brad Schmidt’s expert and very entertaining explanation.]

Here’s another cliché, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

Which raises an important point – the lean leader needs to understand pain thresholds (without facilitating lean wimpiness) and challenge and coach others appropriately.

Here’s to value-adding pain!

Related posts: 12 Narrow Lean Gates, Standard Work Is Like Food – Taste before Seasoning, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!


Airplane Oxygen Masks and Lean Leadership Responsibility

We’ve all heard the flight attendant’s compulsory safety announcement regarding oxygen masks. Personally, I’ve grown pretty numb to the whole safety monologue.

Not a good thing.

During a relatively recent trip on a Southwest flight there was a refreshing twist to the typically sober announcement.

It went something like this, “In the event of a sudden loss in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are traveling with two small children, decide now which one you love more.”

Pretty funny.

But, the truth is there’s a reason that the parent (or guardian) should don the mask first and THEN attend to his or her charge(s). The parent needs to maintain his mental and physical faculties so that he can effectively take care of others. This is not self-serving.

So, this leads (surprise, surprise!) to a lean metaphor.

Lean leaders need to put on the oxygen mask first.

The “oxygen” here is lean competency.

Jeffrey Liker and Gary Convis in their book, The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence through Leadership Development, which I highly recommend, captures this notion well.

Their Toyota Way Leadership Model reflects the following. Please note the ORDER.

  1. Commit to Self-Development. Learn to live True North values through repeated learning cycles,
  2. Coach and Develop Others. See and challenge true potential in others through self-development learning cycles,
  3. Support Daily Kaizen. Build local capability throughout for daily management, and
  4. Create Vision and Align Goals. Create True North vision and align goals vertically and horizontally.

Leaders can’t teach what they do not have. So, they must first put on the oxygen mask of understanding (or at least genuinely commit to and begin to walk the road to understanding) before they can effectively and credibly BEGIN to coach and develop others.

With that, good luck deciding which colleague you first assist with that oxygen mask thing.

Related posts: Book Review: Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation, Why Do You Ask?, 12 Narrow Lean Gates


Visual Controls, Spider-Man, and Do Hotel Chains Really Care About Saving the Planet?

In many ways, visual controls are a 24/7 mirror of leadership’s competency and credibility.

That’s pretty scary if you think about it.

It’s like voluntarily living in a fishbowl. Not that everyone truly understands the gravity of that.

It reminds me of the Spider-Man quote (allegedly borrowed from Voltaire or someone before him), “With great power comes great responsibility.”

So, with the application of visual controls comes great responsibility.

Effective visuals are a universal, self-explaining, unapologetic proclamation to anyone within eyesight and possession of some basic (lean) thinking, that this here, taken together as a system, is our current process health and level of process adherence and sufficiency. This is the established standard, providing insight into one or more of the what, why, where, when (timing, sequence, conditions), how much, how long, who, with whom, targets, and trends. It necessarily highlights the abnormal condition(s)…and prompts correction.

Of course, a lack of competency is belied by visual controls that are tool-driven. We’ve all seen the hodge-podge of stuff  – disconnected visuals that are not part of a system and not applied within the context of a lean management system.

Silly “eye candy.”

Or the visual that is not, as it’s supposed to be, worker-managed…and thus is not maintained, or not maintained consistently, or not maintained properly…and leadership doesn’t seem to care.

So, no one cares.

It may be because the visual control is not sufficient. Or it’s an adherence issue. Or both.  Or perhaps, when problems are identified, no one knows what to do next.

Problem-solving, anyone?

Either way, it turns out to be a leadership competency AND credibility thing.

Naked, for the world to see.

And, the world judges.

The world, whether it’s customers, community, associates, managers, or executives eventually come to a conclusion that lean doesn’t work, the company doesn’t care, leadership doesn’t know what they heck they’re doing, the folks don’t have any discipline, etc.

This leads me to the hotel towel thing.

I’m sure most folks who have stayed in a hotel have seen the rather ubiquitous sign or placard that says something about saving the planet. The verbiage, however clunky, seeks to appeal to our sense of social (and environmental) justice.

Yes, washing towels needlessly is MUDA!

So, I always hang them up after each use.

And, about 80% of the time, housekeeping takes the towel away (and presumably washes it)!

So, I judge the hotel and its leadership. They don’t care about saving the planet!

Make me cynical.

Not a very lean feeling.

Related posts: Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining, Visual of the Visual?, Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes

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Lean and Free Will

To borrow a phrase that was borrowed by Pope Benedict XVI for his (in)famous 2006 Regensburg lecture, “There is no compulsion in lean.”

OK, the pontiff didn’t really use the word “lean” (rather it was “religion”), but the underlying sentiment is much the same.

How so?

Well, you can’t FORCE someone to embrace lean with both heart and mind.

In the end, it must be an intrinsic thing. Organizations achieve and sustain transformative levels when folks “get it,” and “live it.” Meaning, when BOTH their intellect and will are engaged.

The foundational principles of lean are humility and respect for the individual. As such, we must respect each and every person’s free will while doing our level best to teach them.

Free will is pretty much a blind faculty. It’s got to be directed by the brain.

Of course, you can force someone to DO lean things – follow standard work, participate in kaizen activities, respond to abnormal conditions, etc.

However, this is purely extrinsic in nature and therefore is not transformative…at least initially. (I guess the spouses in a number of arranged marriages end up falling in love.)

Compelling people to do things that they otherwise might not want to do is often required in life (hey, son/daughter feed the dog, take out the trash…), including business.

Especially in business.

When a company seriously undertakes a lean transformation, there are certain expectations around adherence and behavior. If employees do not meet the expectations, they must be coached by technically competent believers. Sometimes, eventually, they must leave the organization, voluntarily or involuntarily.

In a derivative of Pascal’s wager…you can act yourself into a new way of being. Through acting lean, meaning engaging in lean actions, folks can start to get it.

The risk obviously, is that these “practitioners” end up just practicing the tools and maybe the systems. That can often be superficial, without real, lasting buy-in.

Understanding and embracing lean principles (the “why”) takes reflection, and deep, consistent coaching.

Presuming that folks have some insight into the technical side (the “how”), and have the ecosystem for improvement (like a robust lean management system and good lean leadership behaviors), the litmus test for whether an organization is bridging the lean compulsion realm to the lean transformation realm is DAILY kaizen.

Yes, management driven kaizen typically manifests itself in kaizen events as pulled by value stream improvement plans and the like. This is system driven kaizen. Not a bad place at all.

But, it’s nearly impossible to fake daily kaizen.

How can you fake voluntary kaizen in the form of (implemented) employee suggestions, kaizen circle activities, and the buzz of countermeasure discussions during daily reflection meetings?!?

My answer is, you can’t.

This extract of the Shingo Prize Model Guidelines, specifically the Examples of Ideal Behaviors for Continuous Process Improvement, drives it home:

  • “Every associate in every part of the organization is engaged every day in
    using the appropriate tools of continuous improvement to eliminate waste and
    maximize value creation.
  • Associates everywhere seek to understand the principles (the why) behind the
    tools (the how); they learn and use that knowledge to continuously improve the
    application of the tools.
  • All associates demonstrate the courage and integrity to tell the truth,
    stop production, and be accountable for defects they observe or create
  • Associates share their expertise in developing best practice standard work and
    demonstrate the discipline to follow it until a better way has been developed.”

So, in the end, there is no true compulsion in lean.

Which is another reason why lean transformations are so darned hard to pull off and why it’s so special when they do happen.

Related posts: The Intrinsic Discipline of the Lean Leader, 12 Narrow Lean Gates, Guest Post: “Magical Thinking”


Why Do You Ask?

This question is typically posed in response to a question that is deemed a bit nosey. It’s actually more of a statement. Along the lines of, “Mind you own business!”

But, for the purpose of this post, it really is a question – one of, and for, the lean leader’s self-reflection.

What truly is the purpose of the questions that we ask? Granted that we must always consider the particular situation, the intent of our questions says a lot about our own lean leadership effectiveness.

click to enlarge

Do we ask questions targeted primarily to extract information from others so that WE can solve the problem for them (maybe despite them)?

Or, do we ask questions to develop the critical thinking of others so that they can develop their own problem-solving muscle and so that they can learn how to mentor others in a similar way?

In short, the role of the lean leader is to teach and learn. NOT to fix.

I know, I know, this is crazy talk.

…Especially when we have historically and routinely been rewarded for being someone who quickly fixes problems single-handedly. All hail the superhero!

What the heck is it with Toyota and that notion of building people before cars?!? Looks like we’ll need a double-dose of patience, humility, and help in questioning strategies and techniques.

So, when is the “extraction method” OK? I’m guessing there are a couple acceptable scenarios where leader as fixer is appropriate (see below). However, the rest of the time, it should be leader as teacher.

  • Life or death situations, and/or when time is really short. The mentor asking the mentee, “What do you think we should do to disarm this soon to detonate explosive device?” probably isn’t going to work out too well.
  • Subject matter expert dealing with a non-expert in an area where deep mentorship is not pragmatic or important. For example, it’s OK for the doctor to ask closed or leading questions after the initial open-ended question of “How do you feel?” The doctor is trying to quickly discern the situation and help the patient heal. The doctor/patient relationship is usually not about the physician teaching the patient to self-diagnose and treat.

In order to develop problem-solvers, we need to help our mentees identify and acknowledge the problem and ultimately, solve the problem. This requires the mentee to think, to engage, and to take ownership.  The extract and tell method that is often employed by leaders doesn’t do any of that well.

click to enlarge

What kind of questions help folks to identify and acknowledge problems?

  • What did you observe?
  • What is/was supposed to happen?
  • What is actually happening/happened?
  • How do you feel about that?

In order to provide good coaching, the lean leader needs to understand how the mentee is thinking, why they’re thinking it, and what they know/think they know and don’t know. Some simple, open-ended questions:

  • What are you thinking?
  • Why do you think that?
  • What makes you say that?
  • How do you know?

Finally, the mentor must help the learner through the PDCA process without doing the telling and without taking ownership themselves. This includes prompting the mentee to identify and articulate the problem to be solved, discover the root causes, formulate potential countermeasures, converge on and experiment with the countermeasure(s), reflect (a.k.a. check) and adjust. Here are some example questions (in addition to the relevant ones listed above):

  • When/where is the problem happening?
  • When/where is the problem not happening?
  • What do you think is causing the problem?
  • How do you know those are the causes?
  • How can you address those causes?
  • Did the countermeasures work as planned?
  • How do you know the countermeasures were effective?
  • What’s your plan?

One thing that I’m sure you have noted is that the example questions are all open-ended in nature. That’s because closed questions (typically limiting a person to a yes or no answer) and leading questions (i.e., “When are going to get the police report?” versus “What further information do you need to close this claim?”) do little to foster critical thinking and ownership.

Open-ended questions also demonstrate the leader’s respect for the mentee’s ability to think. That’s important.

So, ask away with good intent…and listen.

Related posts: Lean Listening, 12 Narrow Lean Gates, 6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings


Simplistic Ain’t Lean

Leonardo da Vinci’s quote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” could easily serve as a lean tagline.

Surely, lean tools, like standard work, visual controls, and mistake proofing devices, are only truly effective if they are easily explained, understood, deployed, maintained, and adjusted. Heck, lean principles are simple too, just hard to implement.

This whole simplicity stuff is consistent with the Shigeo Shingo-identified first objective of continuous improvement – easier (followed immediately by better, faster, and cheaper).

But, some folks in their rush to keep things simple, careen into “simplism.”

Simplism, defined by, is, “[t]he tendency to oversimplify an issue or a problem by ignoring complexities or complications.”

I think a lot of simplism is driven by a type of unthinking lean just-do-it machismo, detachment from the gemba, and/or ignorance of lean principles, systems, and tools.

Simplism begets simplistic directives. Like, within the next quarter, team leaders need to facilitate problem-solving like their counterparts at Toyota.

Except, there just might be some “complications” that need to be addressed first, such as the fact that Toyota team leader span of controls is in the 5-8 associate range, and our team leaders have 15 to 20 associates… not to mention the profound training and mentorship that is required to develop effective team leaders.

Simplism begets simplistic countermeasures.

Countermeasures must address root causes – real root causes. And, the countermeasures must work in the real world.

For example, when a given process is irreducibly complex (for now), the standard work might have to be more than 1 page.

The simplistic practitioner (and I have encountered such folks) might maintain that standard work can’t be more than a page. “It’s too hard for my (well-educated) folks to absorb…”

Simplism shouldn’t be allowed to trump lean principles.

If the one page standard work is insufficient, then the steps, sequence, cycle times, standard WIP, etc. may not be appropriately defined. What then? Is it OK for the operators to improvise?

Ignoring complexity and complications. It’s just magical, non-lean thinking.

Lean leaders can’t be simplistic.

Related posts: Guest Post: “Magical Thinking”, Working Smarter, or Just Harder? Thoughts on Standard Work., Kaizen Principle: Bias for Action


Tattoos, Lean, and Regrets

A friend and colleague provided me with this tattoo parlor photo. He was passing by and just couldn’t resist the irony of it all.

The lack of permanence around the sign construction makes the whole thing even more entertaining.

My friend and I share the same passion for lean as well as an often bizarre brand of humor. He thought the photo was blog worthy, although he wasn’t quite sure of the exact subject.

Well, I’m not one to waste a good picture.


Lean, by it’s very nature, is not permanent. Certainly, if a transformation is not progressing, then it’s not transforming.

If it’s stagnant, it is decaying.

But, I digress.

I’m no expert on tattoos. In fact, I don’t have any.  Although, there were several “near misses” in my younger days.

Other than the stick on variety or henna types, there is very little PDCA around them. Sure there is “plan”, which sometimes doesn’t get the proper rigor before it quickly turns into “do.” Note that tattoo plan and do is best done without the assistance of alcohol and peer pressure.

The “check” part, other than the review of the stencil before the needle, seems to happen largely after the artwork is complete. By then, “act” or “adjust” options are pretty limited.

Lean is a lot more forgiving. Real PDCA, especially within the proper culture, is freeing. Renewable in may ways.

But, as I think through my modest career thus far, I have to ask myself whether I have any lean regrets.

Unlike in the song My Way, my regrets are not too few to mention. So, here are some of my own, along with regrets that I think others should have (based upon my observations over the years).

  • Bending or compromising on one or more lean principles
  • Being too rigid on a lean tool and missing the point (a.k.a. the principle)
  • Not using open-ended questions enough
  • Making technical changes without corresponding management system changes (i.e., leader standard work)…and seeing improvement gains evaporate over time
  • Getting into useless arguments about whether folks need to adhere to standard work. Sure we need to understand the why, but following standard work is a condition of employment. End of story. Improve it if the standard work is not sufficient.
  • Assuming (a.k.a. not validating) that folks understand key lean concepts
  • Not aligning leadership at the very beginning of the lean transformation
  • Not acting quickly enough to remove the saboteurs (after a genuine effort to convert them)
  • Forgetting that people development is as important as business results
  • Giving someone a fish because it’s more expedient than teaching them how to fish
  • Basing leadership assignments more on technical skills than core competencies/behavioral skills
  • Not fixing (or at least containing) problems immediately
  • Prematurely moving from pilot to full scale deployment
  • Ruminating about stuff while sitting in a conference room rather than going to the gemba and personally conducting direct observations
  • Short-cutting problem-solving

The list could go on and on and on.

Of course, unlike in a tattoo scenario, we can reflect and adjust. We can turn our regrets, assuming that we can grasp the root cause(s) and apply effective countermeasures, into strengths.

And, in a form of yokoten, we can share our hard-earned learnings, so that others may better avoid some of our mistakes.

What “lean regrets” do you have?

Related posts: Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!, Lean Listening, 12 Narrow Lean Gates

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Eight Ways to Mess up the Lean Function…and Sabotage the Transformation

The lean function, a.k.a. kaizen promotion office (KPO), operation excellence group, JIT promotion office, company (fill in the name here) lean business system office, continuous improvement office, etc., is a critical resource in any successful lean transformation effort. The KPO does and supports a bunch of necessary stuff, including: change management, people development, daily kaizen deployment, kaizen event management, lean business system curriculum development, and kaizen office management.

If that’s the case, why does leadership get the KPO so wrong, so often?

Often the root cause lies somewhere in the leadership doesn’t know what it doesn’t know region. True transformation is expansive and very, very hard.

Deploying the lean function in Seal Team 6 style, with little or no attention to the rest of lean implementation “details,” and expecting great things is fantasy stuff. Consistent with that notion, there are a bunch of ways to misapply the KPO and screw up the lean transformation. Here are eight ways, among many:

  • Skimp on staffing the lean team. A “rule of thumb” for staffing the KPO is 1%-2% of total company/site headcount. George Koenigsaecker even suggests that the KPO complement should be as much as 3% of the population. For non-lean thinkers, this seems like an outrageous misappropriation of resources.
  • Resource the lean function “late” in the transformation. This one is akin to skimping. When the KPO team is built well after the lean launch, there’s a lot catching up to do in the area of selection, training and development, and deployment. The lean function needs to be ahead of the curve, not behind it.
  • Pick the wrong folks for the group. The quality assurance guy does not necessarily always equal the KPO guy. KPO members should be selected based upon core competencies (like group leadership, change management, etc.), passion and, absent lean technical skills, lean technical aptitude. Poor selection means a lack of lean function effectiveness and, eventually, a “do-over.” Do it right the first time.
  • Abdicate lean leadership to the KPO. Leadership, while often a shared responsibility, cannot be abdicated…especially when it comes to a lean transformation. Stakeholders can smell superficial leadership a mile away. A good OpEx team will serve as effective change agents, but they can’t be the only ones. Batch-head leaders are batch-heads, even if the lean function reports to them.
  • Have the CI guys deliver all of the lean training. It’s powerful stuff when the leader learns and then trains their team in lean principles (at least the basics). When it’s all outsourced to the KPO, there’s little skin in the game.
  • Stick the OpEx team with the kaizen newspaper items. Pretty obvious here – transferring follow-through on post kaizen activity to the CI team instead of the stakeholders kills ownership, engagement and learning.
  • Turn the lean business system office into auditors. When the JIT Promotion folks serve as the routine 5S or lean assessment auditors, without stakeholder engagement, they may be seen more as “gotcha” guys, a plain nuisance, or even worse, totally inconsequential purveyors of the program of the month.
  • Hold the KPO, and only the KPO, accountable. There’s nothing like it when the lean function, and only the lean function, takes the heat for a lack of lean implementation progress. All of the other leaders quickly understand that their commitment is optional and there is always a designated scapegoat when the going gets tough.

So, what am I missing?

Related posts: Who’s Most Responsible for KPO Development? The KPO!, The Kaizen Promotion Office Does What? 8 Critical Deliverables

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