Adopting Lean Management Practices is the Key to a Successful Lean Transformation


It can be difficult to succeed in implementing Lean transformation and improve a company’s metrics over 10 percent. Particularly when managerial behaviours don’t follow this transformation.

In fact, in a Lean environment, managerial behaviours and the company’s culture have to change in order to sustain results. Especially supervisors & team Leaders.

Below is a list of new Lean behaviors that need to be adopted:

  1. 1. The client, whether internal or external, should be placed at the very heart of the process, protected and respected.

  2. 2. No concessions should be made concerning employee safety. Respect your staff and treat them as you would expect to be treated, listen to them.

  3. 3. Identify waste and problems; see how the processes function and the actions that have been implemented.

  4. 4. “Visually” manage the workplace on a daily basis using visual controls. Confirm the processes, and identify the anomalies rather than producing a weekly or monthly report and finding excuses when performance is down.

  5. 5. Learn to appreciate the goldmine you are sitting on (a potential for improvement between 30-70% for all metrics is quite common).

  6. 6. Use facts and figures available rather than impressions, intuition and hypotheses to present and analyze the situation. Build your reasoning step by step (notably through problem-solving activities).

  7. 7. Understand, communicate and deploy company vision, policy and objectives. Indicate the best path to take and which process to implement (the process leads to results).

  8. 8. Know how to delegate and federate a team by having a clearly defined strategy, objectives and values, fluid and efficient communication (organisation and frequency of meetings) and be able to deliver continuous improvement from one year to the next.

  9. 9. When facing issues, go for transparency (issues are opportunities). Analyze the processes that are not functioning correctly, do not judge or blame the person behind the problem, work as a team, include the person to determine root-cause (5 Whys) and define solutions to eliminate it.

  10. 10. Promote the creation of interdisciplinary working groups to work as teams. Encourage small, regular, rapid, inexpensive but ingenious improvements rather than costly long-term ground-breaking ideas (investment) or the ideas of experts.

  11. 11. Support, accompany and develop your collaborators through coaching activities (“learning by doing” & “show me, tell me”) and recognize success. Provide appropriate resources when necessary.

  12. 12. Challenge Status Quo. Renounce conventional models and fixed ideas to provoke change and innovation.

  13. 13. Encourage / promote standards creation and respect; and consider them as the keys to improvement that prevent performance from falling and enable everyone to reach an optimal level of performance.

  14. 14. Be exemplary with your teams and lead by example.

  15. 15. Immediately react to mistakes and quickly implement solutions for improvement.

  16. 16. Facilitate change: understand what is changing or needs to change and change things yourself. Create the conditions to promote change. Be part of at least the initial change process. Understand and deal with any obstacles to change. Confirm and take interest in the changes and continually try to improve.

  17. 17. Follow performance directly using hand-written visual KPI’s –displayed where the action takes place – and commit yourself to achieving ambitious objectives.

  18. 18. Promote those whose careers that have been gradually and carefully built upon experience and skills rather than fast-rising non-specialists. Recognize the value and importance of experts as much as that of the managers.

Lean transformation often fails because management behaviour is not suitable to support the transformation. The purpose is now to give details on the main required management behaviours.

I) Stimulate/promote the creation and respect of standards

Standards can be compared to a “prop” to help everyone progress and prevent performance from falling. Any discrepancy means a loss of efficiency or quality-related problems.

Here, management responsibility is twofold:

-          Management must promote the creation of standards to develop the organisation’s expertise and enable everyone to attain a level of outstanding performance (efficiency, quality/client satisfaction). Thus, standards help increase team skills (training).

-          Management must also ensure they are applied correctly to guarantee performance: checking their application is a way to discover the problems that need solving or find new improvement sources. It also means letting the teams know how important it is to respect them.

II) Go and identify the waste, the problems, and confirm processes

Managing from a distance via reductive analysis of figures and data cannot lead to the right decisions being taken and does not make it possible to react quickly. On the other hand, the manager who manages from the shop floor is more likely to manage well and obtain sustainable results. Going to the workplace allows the manager to not only identify the waste, but to check if problem solving is effective and if the production system performs as planned in order to anticipate problems.

For this, the manager must be in a position to identify the waste, as well as train his teams to do so. He must ensure that his teams solve problems efficiently with parts or documents on hand, in front of the machine, (rather than in a meeting room where false suppositions and conclusions are all too frequent: “I think the problem comes from XYZ”. Finally, the manager must “control” operations by checking shop floor processes, in other words auditing the visual controls deployed for this very purpose (examples: inventory level indicators, number of defects, etc.)  Any discrepancies are new problems that require solving but are also learning opportunities for the teams.

III) Support, lead, and develop your collaborators through appropriate coaching activities

A good process leads to good results: a team that is supported, led and developed by its manager will clearly be more efficient than a team that has been abandoned by its manager.

In such a case, the manager’s role is:

-          To support his teams. In other words, to ensure the right skills in the right quantities are present for a successful project/initiative and to boost them if necessary.

-          To lead. Here, the manager acts as a coach whose role is to have his teams think, and to show them the way and the method/process to use in order to succeed.

-          To develop his teams using a variety of means (learning by doing, challenge via workplace process confirmation, promote intelligent mobility …).

IV)  React immediately to mistakes and quickly implement improvement ideas

In the light of the permanent need to improve efficiency, the manager must ensure the deployment of quick response loops and promote rapid reaction. Letting mistakes unsolved (in files, figures, behaviour, quality, safety) means taking the risk of seeing a small mistake worsen with potentially catastrophic consequences (for example, the death of an employee or the regular shipment of defects to a client). This is why the manager must react immediately to mistakes (and ensures those just below him in the hierarchy do the same).

The same notion of reactivity must be applied to improvement ideas. The manager’s role is to ensure the organisation improves continuously.

For this, he needs to promote:

-          The emergence and “tracing” of good improvement ideas (without tracing, the ideas may be forgotten).

-          Their deployment as rapidly as possible without delaying. Any delay slows the improvement process.

V) Place the internal & external client at the very heart of the process, protect him and respect him

The manager’s role is to ensure the future by guaranteeing full and total client satisfaction; otherwise there is a risk for the activity of the organisation. This means the manager must instil the notion of “client first” or “client protection” and lead his teams in this direction. Similarly, the performance indicators put in place by the manager must measure the non-quality as seen by the client before tackling internal non quality. Before any LeanPerf intervention, over half of our clients do not consider measuring non quality sent to the client as a priority.

If the notion of end client or external client is fairly well understood, that of internal client (the next step in the process) is much less so.

90% of the Office VSM we perform reveals a real lack of understanding of internal client (the next step in the process) requirements which often leads to either dissatisfaction of those involved or reworking / unnecessary operations. Understanding these needs brings the organisation to a higher level of performance and this is where the manager has a key role to play.

VI) Do not compromise on the safety of the people and respect them

People within an organisation tend to behave like their manager, who sets the tone in terms of behaviour. Thus, being exemplary and not making any concessions or ignoring any situation that may involve a risk to the safety of employees is fundamental for a manager whose duty is to improve personnel safety. Improving safety is seen as a sign of respect for others.

Here are some examples: ensure everyone wears their PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and that they are reasonably comfortable to wear; no empty fork-lift truck driving with the forks 50 cm from the ground; react to someone presenting a dangerous posture, for example bending over 90° instead of bending their knees (back staying straight) when lifting heavy load, etc.

Respect for collaborators is also fundamental for the manager: he must listen to them and have them contribute to the improvement process, help them solve their problems themselves and treat them as he would like to be treated in their position.

We noted an interesting practice employed by a manufacturing company who had all his white collars, from the CEO down, work as operators a few days each month. It goes without saying that solutions to all workstation difficulties were rapidly found.

In reality, just 24h after the general manager had tried out the workstation, the production and process teams were working flat out to improve it.

When employees, technicians and supervisory management spend a number of days per month in the workplace working as operators, their understanding of the workplace changes:

  • They understand the discomfort and fatigue (working on ones feet for 8 hours a day).
  • They develop a more understanding and positive vision of the operator and production process which strengthens / improves their role of production “support” for greater overall performance.

By Bertrand Olivar – LeanPerf; Director

Bertrand OlivarBertrand Olivar has been implementing Lean for over 20 years and has acquired experience from both the world of industry and consulting with Valeo, Faurecia and McKinsey. 

The firm that deployed Lean implements production flows, continuous workshop flow, reduced batch sizes and the elimination of unnecessary material flows. This frees factory space and can lead to reduced external storage costs of between €500K and €1.5 million per year (if the firm uses external logistics hubs).
The firm deploying Lean controls material losses through a structured problem-solving process (for example QRQC) to reduce losses which have a direct impact on margins.
The deployment of team autonomy also helps reduce nonproduction labour costs (auto-control, self-maintenance, setter-operator, Kanban to “delegate” production control to the operator).