Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The New Role of the Boss in a LEAN Organization

One of the inevitable outcomes when your organization does lean really well is confusion on the part of those folks with the title of supervisor, boss or manager. 

The benefit of doing lean really well is a world where the people who are physically doing the work are continuously improving their processes. People who actually do the work see demand. People that do the work figure out how to take care of headaches like defects, problems and complaints. The goal, don't forget, is to use OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE as a strategic weapon to cause market disruption (customers and competitors are saying, "how the hell do they do it?!?"). The countermeasures that are put in place as the result of rapid kaizan (A3) will be better than those put in place via the board room by people who don't do the work. I promise you that. I've seen it work like that hundreds of times. In lean terms, they call this upside down management.

So what do managers do for work now? Simple. Their role is to build leaders. Here are some examples of their standardized work:
1. Help A3 leaders get people together. In many companies, it can be very difficult to get people together quickly for 15-20 minute meetings at GEMBA. Cross-functional teams come from different parts of the organization-the factory floor, labs, the office, sometimes even off the road (in the case of sales). When A3 becomes the way you do continuous improvement, people get very, very good at coming together for quick meetings on short notice. 
2. Help A3 leaders follow up with others on agreed upon tasks. As your company transforms from a hierarchical bureaucracy to A3, it can take some practice for an A3 leader to ask others to do things. They're just not used to doing it. 
3. Help the A3 leader plan out his "closing". The closing of an A3 is AS important as the project itself. A3 cannot be done in a vacuum. The learnings need to be taught to others. People need support to feel confident speaking in front of their peers. Also, videos or pictures of the original problem will be presented at the closing.  Perhaps a Power Point presentation will need to be done. The new role of the "supervisor" is to do this kind of prep work for the A3 leader. 
4, Provide support so the A3 closes on time. The A3 team picks the closing date. Then stuff happens. You get a big order. Things get hectic. The role of the "supervisor" is to help the A3 leader finish on time. 
5. Fill in for the A3 leader if necessary. Occasionally, the A3 leader may be pulled from his real job to complete tasks. The supervisor should be willing and capable to fill in and do the real job for short periods if needed.
6. Constantly remind people that it is part of our role to continuously improve processes to move toward flow. Demonstrate that it is important to get better every day.

One of the best pieces of advise from one of my senseis was that if my job (I was a Senior Leader) remains unchanged for more than a month, I should NOT expect others to change their job. Pretty scary thought, but so very true in retrospect!

(By the way, for you young people, the picture is Mr. Slate, Fred Flintstone's boss).

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