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How to Implement Lean Work Processes

Cover art for podcast.
Details a roadmap to the successful implementation of lean work processes.

The successful implementation of Lean work processes depends upon the vigorous and visible support of top management, coupled with the knowledgeable and capable support of managers and supervisors. This podcast describes a seven-stage, systematic process for the successful implementation of Lean. The process is based upon the belief that the implementation of Lean depends as much upon Lean thinking as it does upon Lean work processes.

Duration: 13:00 Audio MP3
© 2010 St. Louis Community College
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As I've mentioned in previous podcasts, the percent of organizations that fail at their attempt to implement Lean processes is high. By most estimates, the failure rate is in the range of 75%. It is my firm belief that these failures ... failures that prevent organizations from being world class competitors in today's very tough economy and, in fact, cause some companies to fail ... these failures are almost entirely preventable. How can they be prevented? They can be prevented by the careful and deliberate preparation of the organization's leadership team. At all levels of the organization's leadership structure, it must be understood that Lean manufacturing is based upon three basic beliefs about the nature of work and workers. The basic beliefs that undergird Lean and are the foundation upon which its success is built are these:

  1. All work processes, without exception, are imperfect.
  2. Driving work processes toward perfection must be done by tapping the creativity and knowledge of the individuals who do the work.
  3. The primary job responsibility of all levels of leadership, from front line supervisors to CEOs, is to serve as catalysts, triggering the creativity of their direct reports and focusing the organization on the relentless pursuit of perfection. No job responsibilities trump this one.

What are the very practical implications of these pillars of Lean? There are three:

  1. The organization's executive team needs to understand that the success of Lean will depend upon their vigorous and highly visible support of Lean.
  2. The organization's management team needs to have a clear understanding of what Lean is and they need to know how to translate their understanding of Lean into management practices that support the successful implementation of Lean.
  3. The organization's front line supervisors need to understand Lean, they need to know how to support it, and have the skills needed to fulfill their primary job responsibility as Lean leaders, that being to unleash the creativity of line workers.

We have developed a Lean Implementation Process that addresses each of the basic requirements of a successful transition to Lean. Here's how it works:

  1. The first stage is a planning session with the organization's executive leadership to discuss their understanding of Lean work processes, their reasons for wanting to implement Lean, and the degree to which they understand the need for their very high profile support of Lean.
  2. Depending upon information gained during this planning session, to use one or several of the following fact-finding instruments, each of which is intended to provide vital data that will be used to shape the approach taken by the organization as it implements Lean.
    Lean Readiness Survey. This instrument provides information about the degree to which the organization's work goals are supportive of changes in work processes; it measures employee thoughts regarding the quality of teamwork in the organization, and it measures employee observations about the quality of communication in the organization.
    Lean Deployment Observation Checklist. This checklist is used with managers and first level supervisors to gauge the degree to which the workspaces for which they are responsible will support the implementation of Lean.
    Lean Management Observation Checklist. This measures the degree to which managers and supervisors have access to the types of information they will need to continually track and interpret as Lean is implemented.
    Nine Wastes of Lean Survey. This is used to collect information about the various types of waste that managers and supervisors are aware of, coupled with their evaluations of the relative degree to which these types of waste impact their organization's productivity.
  3. After these surveys and checklists have been administered, we conduct one-on-one interviews with managers, the purpose of which is to gather their thoughts on the meaning of the data that was collected with the surveys and to prepare for Lean planning sessions with each of the managers and their direct reports.
  4. At the meetings with individual managers and their direct reports, manager observations regarding the relative “state of Lean” in the workspaces for which they are individually responsible are reviewed and supervisor impressions of these observations are solicited. Out of these discussions, each manager/supervisor team will prepare a short presentation which they will present in the next stage of the Lean implementation process, which is ...
  5. An all-employee briefing , opening with top management speaking about the importance of Lean work processes to the future of the organization and, therefore, to the future each employee's individual career. Following this, each manager briefs employees on the “State of Lean” in their respective areas. The briefing is concluded with a CBIL Consultant giving an overview of the road ahead in the journey to Lean.
  6. Following the all-employee briefing, two initiatives occur concurrently. They are:
    Manager/Supervisor Prep: Lean Leadership Certificate Program. Key barriers to the successful implementation of Lean work processes in most organizations are mid-level managers and frontline supervisors. Why is this? As I've mentioned in earlier podcasts, Lean depends upon high degrees of employee engagement and driving this level of engagement is very much dependent upon the ability of managers and supervisors to act in ways that support it. The ability of many managers and supervisors to do this effectively is inadequate. St. Louis Community College has developed a Lean Leadership Certificate program specifically targeted at meeting this need. It engages managers and supervisors in a series of nine highly interactive and focused learning experiences in which they build their Lean leadership skills as well as their understanding of Lean work processes.
    - Concurrent with the Lean Leadership seminars, the organization launches the 5S System. It has been our experience, and the experience of many organizations which have successfully implemented Lean work processes, that the 5S System is a crucial first step. Why is this true? For two reason. First, 5S creates workspaces that are lean, clean, and orderly ... the kind of workspaces in which the other tools of Lean, such as Value Stream Mapping, Work Cell Redesign, Six Sigma, and others, can, as needed, be successfully implemented. Second, 5S is an excellent tool to drive employee engagement in work process improvements. The process we use to implement 5S involves forming a core team made up of representatives of all areas of the facility. This team has the responsibility of driving the highly focused involvement of all employees in creating unbreakable order and cleanliness. Typically, these initial 5S implementation campaigns last for between 10 months and a year and are concluded with the formation of a ...
  7. Lean/5S Leadership Team. This team is made up of first level supervisors and line employees and serves two functions. First, it ensures that all workspaces maintains the high standards of lean, clean, and orderly achieved during 5S implementation and, in fact, improved upon. Second, it supports the implementation of a variety of other Lean work processes such as Work Cell Redesign, Value Stream Mapping, Standardized Work, Kanban, Pull Production, Six Sigma, and others.

The Lean/5S Leadership Team is a core component of Lean and continues to meet regularly, typically bi-weekly, focusing on driving higher and higher levels of employee engagement and more and more productive work processes.

Do I believe the process I've outlined should be followed just as described by any organization aspiring to the implementation of Lean? Yes, absolutely. Our own experience, coupled with the experience of many leaders of the Lean revolution, confirms that there is a high correlation between following a process like the one I've just described and successfully implementing Lean work processes and Lean thinking, the twin engines that drive Lean sustainability.

I'd like to meet with you to discuss the ways in which St. Louis Community College's resources could be put to work for you to support of your successful transition to Lean work processes. Call me anytime at 314-303-0612 and let's schedule a meeting. I hope you've found this series of podcasts on Lean to be both interesting and productive. Have a great day!