Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Role of the LEAN Beret

In my company, way back in 2004, we realized that we needed to change how we ran the business. Processes all around the company that worked great when we were small seemed chaotic now that we were medium sized. (the company had quadrupled in size (sales & people) in 10 years). I started looking at using six sigma, and began to train people in the company, but I quickly realized it was but one tool we could use to take waste out of our processes.

After I began to study and become certified as a lean champion, I started taking some of the thinking out onto the shop floor. The impact was immediate. Cash flow improved big time. Customers were getting their orders much faster with better consistency in quality. People began to exhibit a sense of ownership that the company president had been preaching but had difficulty communicating.

As the "lean journey" gained momentum, I recruited what I called the "lean beret". This group consisted of 6 people, including me. They were the early adopters. They were the people that always asked more questions, hung around after class, and demonstrated a passion for seeing and removing waste from processes.

The Lean Beret would meet for 30-45 minutes every Tuesday at 1 pm. They came from different parts of the company. Maintenance, Technical, Administration ( the office), and the Plant Floor. The objective of the group was to help others see and remove waste in their processes. They also helped me put together the curriculum for the company-wide classes. They helped me guide 75 people through the process of becoming a learning organization. Ultimately, they helped me develop the curriculum for our company University. They also helped develop the process by which new employees are brought up to speed when they join a very fast lean company.

If you are responsible for leading a lean journey, keep your eyes open for those people who seem to "get it" first. Meet with these people regularly as part of your standardized work, and make their involvement visible. If you do rapid kaizan using A3, who are the people doing it most often and can't seem to get enough? Don't hurry in assembling this team. Don't look at resumes or where they work. You're looking for an attitude....a healthy disrespect of the current condition!

The infrastructure and nurturing of lean takes a lot of work, especially if your goal is to use lean as a strategic weapon, and not just a program.  Your Lean Beret will get you where you want to go much faster.

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