The Role of the #Lean #Team in a Lean #Transformation

Article written by David Brunt

At the annual Summit in November 2014, Terry O’Donoghue shared the remarkable Lean transformation story happening at the Halfway Group in South Africa.

By starting with customer purpose (and then business purpose) Terry explains how the leadership team is simultaneously improving the value creating work whilst developing the people at the same time. You will hear Terry explain that his primary role as COO is to develop all 1424 people in the organization into problem solvers (1067 people when he started in the role.) To ensure that this capability is developed each manager is responsible for developing his/her team. In this Lean transformation, team member development and improvement are line management responsibilities. Problems are highlighted directly from each site’s strategy with the aim that everyone is then aligned to work on the vital few issues with countermeasures being part of the daily work, embedded into the management system.

In both a public sector organization and a couple of multi-national manufacturing firms Lean implementation has been very much project based – a Lean team has been trained (unfortunately most of the training I observe is still classroom based with a six sigma focus) with certificates and belts given for attendance and the completion of projects. This approach has resulted in the Lean teams having tens of improvement projects work in progress and therefore long implementation lead times from start to finish.

“Any improvement activity only starts after a lengthy “define and measure” phase or after a project team is set up that meets weekly (often away from the work) to discuss improvement with interim work being done by Lean team personnel.” 

In cases like these senior managers and members of the Lean team tell that sustainability is challenging. They recognize the need for a couple of fundamental changes in approach. Firstly, for their Lean activity to be based upon solving the fundamental problems faced by the organization rather than improvement projects focused only on one dimension (often only cost saving.) Secondly, for their Lean team to move from being the expert problem solver – often doing Lean to people rather than with people to a role educating, coaching and supporting the line management to be able to lead and develop Lean capability themselves.