Who Will Lead Your Lean Transformation?

As is the case with any major organizational improvement effort, lean transformation requires a great deal of commitment, guidance and follow-up. This transformation also requires effective management.

As is the case with any major organizational improvement effort, lean transformation requires a great deal of commitment, guidance and follow-up. This transformation also requires effective management. Opportunities need to be identified, plans must be developed and executed, and responsible parties need to be held accountable. Most agree that a “lean champion” would be an ideal person for managing a lean transformation. I agree. In fact, a full-time lean champion who is dedicated to the successful implementation of lean principles throughout an organization is an invaluable asset. For companies that can afford to have such a person on staff, it is likely the lean transformation will run more smoothly. Unfortunately, many small and even some mid-sized companies cannot afford a full-time lean champion. For these companies, there is an alternative I call the “lean steering committee.”
The lean steering committee assumes responsibility for managing the lean transformation. The committee’s main objective is to ensure that the lean transformation stays on track and reaches a successful conclusion. This requires ongoing review of the progress that is being made and taking appropriate action when necessary. Although the lean steering committee is not expected to do all of the work, it must manage company resources in such a way that the work gets done.

Let’s examine how a lean steering committee might function in a hypothetical lean transformation. We will assume that a company is three months into its lean transformation. Training on the lean tools has been completed; opportunities to eliminate waste have been identified; and plans to attack these opportunities have been developed with specific personnel assigned to complete tasks by specific dates. At this time, there are plans for improving workplace organization in the two most critical fabrication departments, a plan to reduce setup time on the CNC machines and a plan to implement a manufacturing cell for the highest volume product line.

As a start, the committee needs easy access to all lean implementation plans, preferably electronically via a central management information system. It is the responsibility of each member of the committee to periodically review each of these implementation plans and be knowledgeable about what is happening with each one. If issues arise that seem to cause concern or stall progress on any of the plans, members of the committee must be prepared to act on them as frequently as necessary. For example, a missed milestone on reducing setup times for CNC machines should be addressed as soon as it is discovered. Alternative actions to get the plan back on track need to be explored immediately.

Once a month, the entire steering committee formally meets with the people responsible for each implementation plan to discuss overall progress and to address any unresolved issues. This meeting is not the forum for the committee to review progress on a plan for the first time because the first review should have been done prior to the meeting. During this meeting, the committee may have to make decisions, so advanced planning (and possible anticipation of any issues that may surface) is critical. If resource constraints appear to be an issue for some plans, lean steering committee representatives must be prepared to tackle the issue head-on during the meeting. It is unproductive to respond to important issues with an “I’ll get back to you on that” answer. Those responsible for completing specific, time sensitive tasks may periodically need the support of the lean steering committee and this support must be visible. By the conclusion of the formal monthly meeting, the committee should have clearly reinforced its commitment to the lean transformation. This should be done with appropriate feedback for plans that are on target, as well as on those plans that have not met the committee’s expectations, requiring further effort or refocusing. By reinforcing its commitment, the lean steering committee is soliciting the commitment of everyone in the organization to keep the lean transformation moving forward.

A strong and committed lean steering committee is a practical and proven way to ensure success of your lean transformation.