What Is The Role Of A Leader When Starting A Lean Journey

Yep, let’s state the obvious - the role of a leader is crucial when starting a Lean journey.  The trick is, asking ourselves, do we truly understand the role of leadership when it comes to Lean?

In true form, I am going to try and keep this as simple as possible and break the key responsibilities of leadership into two key elements.  These are:

  • Setting the platform
  • Role modelling the expectations

Let’s look at the first element - Setting the platform.  
By this I mean, does the business know why it is ‘doing’ Lean.  Has there been any strategic planning and direction where this has been identified, communicated and described.  Go back to my previous blog about change to understand this process. The other aspects of creating an environment where people are encouraged to improve themselves or the business through better work systems and processes. This is why creating a great culture is one of the most important elements in a Lean Leadership’s role.  I often see the interest in continuous improvement but it is the leadership that are the first ones to keep running around firefighting and not improving.  In this situation you must ask yourself, if this is the case, why should the rest of the team act or think differently?

Then the last step is all about setting the direction of the business.  Every decision, action or improvement must be about achieving or moving the business towards that vision, if it doesn’t - don’t do it, it is that simple.  This does not mean it needs to be a complicated 107 page document with 87 objectives.  Again keep it simple and make sure it is consistently referred to, communicated and accessible.

The second element is all about setting the standard of leadership.
A lot of it is role modelling what you expect your team to do.  In the Lean world, this can be referred to as Leader Standard Work.

The basic output of Leader Standard Work will be a list of daily activities for managers in the operation. Sounds easy, right? But, here’s the kicker; regardless of whatever else happens each day, at a minimum the daily Standard work list must be accomplished. This puts an emphasis on accomplishing the tasks as a part of the process management system. There may be different activities that happen depending on the day of the week, or the timing; such as weekly or each shift.

For lean companies, leader standard work changes the focus of the leadership and employees from being the primary firefighters to building a business that takes a team based approach to problem-solving. As always, this is always evolving. It asks leaders to constantly review their daily routines and actions and eliminate waste within the planning and controlling aspects of the business. Leader standard work is part of the infrastructure of a lean management system that includes: Pursuit of True North, standardised work, visual management, people development, and accountability systems.  In summary, there should be a plan about how a leader completes these following actions                                                              

  • Daily team reflection
  • Gemba walks - go to where the work is done
  • Rapid response to variation
  • Mentoring - developing your people
  • And strategy deployment - keeping it alive each day!

I never said leading Lean was easy, but it also isn’t complicated.  Like everything around instilling a continuous improvement mindset into an organisation, it takes discipline.  If you want to change, it is hard.  Hard not to just fix the problems that are occurring, hard not to be available all the time for staff, being pulled from one issue to the next. Leader Standard Work is possibly the hardest challenge a manager will take on during the first few months or first year! This is why there is a lot of material written about this subject - I have added just a sample of the links you can find.
All I can do is encourage you to always look at your role in a Lean organisation and continuously review and improve.  Be open and honest with your team, be ok when things don’t go quite according to plan.  Be transparent and own mistakes.  The one thing you can do is model and set an example to your team every day.


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