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Are you a Lean leader?
What springs to your mind when you hear “Lean Organisations”? – is it large manufacturers, collaborative engineering, streamlined supply chains, agile organisations which continuously adapt to economic conditions and out-perform their competitors? Or do you see our future UK public sector organisations with effect of the tough but fair “UK 2010 Emergency budget”?
As demonstrated at the interactive simulation run at our recent Lean Academy event, even the simplest administrative task or back office process can become very chaotic and unnecessarily inefficient. By clearly understanding your customer’s requirements and empowering the workforce to see these inefficiencies and apply simple but powerful proven techniques, dramatic changes can be delivered.
When participants at the recent event started applying lean thinking to the simulation, their team productivity was doubled, and then tripled. What made a difference? – the use of powerful lean tools? Yes, but it is not just that which made a difference. It was the synergy amongst the team members with a clear understanding of what is generating value (their customers’ acceptance criteria) and what waste can be removed from their operations through timely and prompt communications.
I recall one project at one of the leading global high tech manufacturers where I was asked to look into the substantial gaps between logical and physical data on the use of expensive DRAM (dynamic random access memory). They could not find any cause for it in spite of their examinations of the processes and systems involved. They had flash-back functions in the system, so the actual usage of DRAM was captured automatically; their stock was managed in a lockable storage as this part is rather expensive.
All the analysis I did agreed that the process and systems were working fine. As it was a 24 hour operation, my next step was to observe how the production line was run day and night, being there in the factory.
On day 2, I started noticing certain behaviours of the key operators, so I asked for an interview with them while they were off the line. They were aware of the importance of the operations they were tasked to do and very proud of their role, making sure that all the parts were tightly controlled. When I asked about ensuring the number of remaining DRAM in the storage, they proudly told me that they would correct the figure on the system constantly to make sure it matches with the number of the DRAM in the storage as they would not like to lose their job.
It turned out that a couple of people lost their jobs, in the past, due to the unmatching figures and this fear was driving them to take the action to adjust the figures constantly on the system. “This is it!” I thought. They were working with fear and were obsessed with matching the figures at any point of time. They did not realise that there was a short leadtime for the system to receive the data of used parts at the point of check by backflash. They did not understand the overall processes and how their actions would impact on the overall operations. The severe punishment culture was driving their genuine, but destructive, actions.
When I shared these findings with the MD of the firm his head went down, and he could not say a word. At the end of the meeting, he promised me that he would review the way employees were engaged in their operations and address the prevailing fear culture in the organisation.
This is just a simple example of how your single employee’s engagement can impact your result. Employees are not stupid, they sense the message from the way the management makes decisions and operates.
Let me ask you a question – why do you need to set up a task force which does not include any people from the operations on the ground in order to improve operational efficiencies and effectiveness? A leader is required and a couple of support members might be needed, but how can you identify real improvement actions without involving your people on the ground?
The beauty of the lean concept is that this puts everyone on the same ground with the same purpose – challenging the status quo relentlessly and continually pursuing the better. What you need is a leader who can ignite your organisation with lean thinking. It is the combination of “Lean” leadership and “Lean” employee engagement that will truly unlock the potential of your organisation and embed the culture of continuous improvement.
Are you a “Lean” leader?