Mar 30 2016

It has been written about repeatedly, people talk about it, some go as far as doing something about it. But too often we (the lean community) focus more on how to use the tools than the culture we want to engender when it comes to Lean implementation. We focus on ensuring the right systems (tools) are in place for the continuous improvement of processes. Having the right systems (tools) is important, but it’s not enough.

A former boss of mine used to say that Toyota didn’t need good leaders because their systems were strong enough to counter poor leadership. I disagreed & continue to stand by my position that the best systems in the world are useless if the people running them do not have the right mindset & behaviours to ensure they are maintained (and improved) at the appropriate levels.

We can tweak and improve the system repeatedly, but if the expectations, the rules, the triggers to act within the system are not acted on, the system will fail. Making problems obvious is great, but if nothing is done when problems arise, what’s the point? If we solve problems quickly but fail to share the knowledge with the wider team, we lose the benefits that could have been if we thought beyond the individual process/team/function/etc. where the problem was found & solved.

Most importantly, if we don’t coach & develop our people to use the tools, to understand their purpose beyond the obvious (think 5S = a clean workplace; or 5S = reduced motion, a safer environment, not looking for things, etc.) then we are missing much of the benefits we could achieve. To do this the leadership must have not only the knowledge of how to use the tools, but a deeper understanding of their purpose, beyond the obvious. They must have the right mindset to challenge the status quo, to look for opportunities to improve, not just follow the systems.

Having the right systems (tools) in place creates an environment that is conducive to continuous improvement, but it takes leadership to maintain them to the right standard & to develop the entire workforce to not only use them, but to use the thinking behind them to identify & implement improvements. The tools will not create the culture of continuous improvement, they create the environment where the culture can develop. Leadership creates the culture through coaching & challenging, by not accepting poor adherence to standards, by creating an army of problem solvers rather than a herd of conformists.

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