What is Lean Management?

Lean teaches us that when we develop people to eliminate waste, we are going to reduce our lead times, improve our quality, and reduce costs. Sounds great! So what does this new management approach look like?

I first learned about Lean management from David Mann in his book Creating a Lean Culture. He explains that Lean Management combines 3 elements of management that we are all familiar with: visual controls, accountability meetings, and leader standard work. However, when we use all three, together, we get a powerful way to lead and develop people. With Lean management we will not only introduce Lean tools faster, but we will sustain and extend their benefits.

Updating the daily progress board.

The first element of the approach is to use visual controls. They are the physical cues that help you keep track of progress. Showing progress, visually, is a powerful way to steer people back to targets and goals. This is why we often use charts or graphs to convey a message. Even with 5S (5 Steps of workplace organization), we have seen how powerful “before and after” pictures can help people stay focused and motivated on progress.

Visual is powerful.

In a personal example, in 2022 I made a commitment to lose weight, but this time my goal was to get to my ideal BMI. The last time I tried to lose weight, I tracked it with Google Fit. After reinstalling the app, I was happy to see my old weight from 10 years ago, but I also found records for the past 6 years. They were sparse. (sometimes my weight went up, and that was often followed by a long period of not entering anything!). Clearly, I wasn’t very good at logging, regularly.

This is where the next element, leader standard work, steps in. David Mann describes Leader Standard work as the engine itself: the power that drives everything. And it is mostly about leaders establishing routines, such as updating visual controls, at specific times. For me, establishing a daily routine involved getting another app that reminded me to log calories, after my last meal of the day, or reminding me to measure my weight in the morning. It would also make sure I enter my water consumption throughout the day. The idea is that, over time, all this information gathering would become second nature to me.

Leader standard work not only ensures that such information is captured but also carves out time for us to meet about the visuals. The thing is, unless we make time to reflect on results, we aren’t learning by what the visuals are telling us about our actions. For that awareness, I would need to connect how my behavior affects the result. How much am I eating? What am I eating and how much water am I drinking? Then, more importantly, what can I do to change the result before the next weigh in. This is where the last piece of the puzzle fits: the accountability process. David explains it like the transmission in your car. The transmission turns all the engine power into action.

For my personal Lean journey, I connected with a coach who can see my weight loss and food journal. They would ask me: what was my last step (exercise targets for the week, planning healthier meals), what did I learn, and what am I going to try next? I would simply chat to her through the app. It is through that interaction that I would discover new knowledge. Specifically, I would learn about what works for me, and what does not, and keep trying new things.

The team uses the information from the visual cues to pivot on the latest results.

For me, this check-in accountability process became the most important part of my lean journey, and it was so much more than a regular report out. With that coaching, I could stay objective about those visual cues, even when things were going the wrong way. My coach ensured that my goals were clear and more meaningful and this allowed me to keep my perspective. Also, even if I didn’t enter anything in my log at all before reporting time, I had someone to keep me accountable and ask me if things were okay. Whether at home or work, we must remember that it’s daily human interaction that is at the heart of what keeps us improving and motivated to reach our goals. As leaders, if we don’t remember to check in with our staff, even if it is for a few short minutes every day, but especially when the going gets tough, we risk losing those key opportunities to keep the momentum going.

Now let’s say I created an app that would do all these things: a visual that tracks my weight and another to track my calories, a chat to connect me with a coach, set reminders and schedule things. And, while you are at it, help breeze through a few million articles about weight loss, food, recipes etc. without realizing it. Is there an app that could combine all of that? Turns out, there is no shortage of such apps.

In an article about the success of one of these apps, the author says it is because of AI! Despite making me very curious about that, there must be a simpler explanation. To me, it’s just taking human psychology into account. By combining the 3 elements, visual cues, routines, and an accountability process into 1 self-contained system, I believe, you are giving people the ability to manage themselves better in a more sustainable, and almost automated way. And that is exactly what we are building out for the business. Hopefully, now you can see the kind of system we will implement that will manage our people, develop them, and lose waste.

In the next lesson we will look at what goals look like for Lean.

So, how much weight did I lose, what app did I use, and did I get to that BMI goal? A better question is, was I able to successfully change my lifestyle, enough, to be confident that things won’t go back to the way they were, and maybe even get rid of that app? And the answer to that is… YES!

About the author:

Shamir Doshi
Lean Engineer
Email: 8doshi@gmail.com

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