Does lean management actually exist anywhere in the world today?
Define Lean Management:
I often get asked this question, â€œWhat is Lean Management?â€ I think the reason people ask this is because it is a concept sought after by
many organizations but something that is not often seen or experienced, in reality. In other words, it is a rare commodity to find anywhere in the business world. Many management teams consider themselves to be gifted with the necessary leadership qualities to meet the demands of a Lean Enterprise. However, the lack of objective evidence seems to prove a different story in most businesses. Why can I say this with total confidence? Well, itâ€™s because of Genchi Gembutsu. That’s why!
Principles of Lean Management:
How many management teams even understand the principles of Genchi Gembutsu? Well, I think I say with confidence, â€œNot manyâ€. The words have a simple meaning but the activities behind this phrase are powerful. In my world, I believe that actions speak louder than words. Genchi Gembutsu is one of the key principles of the Toyota Production System (TPS). It requires a person to go to the â€œGemba â€“ the place where the work is being doneâ€ to â€œsee it with their own eyesâ€. What is happening? When is it happening? Who is making it happen? How is it happening? One might think this was simple, right!
How many managers actually go to the Gemba? How many do it at regular intervals throughout their workday? I must apologize for what may appear to be cynicism on my part, but I have not seen managers leaving their officeâ€™s as often as they should. Industry seems to have created managers that carry out their duties from the confines of their office via email or other intranet systems. Instead of management by relationship, we have management by instant messaging. The face-to-face time to discuss the day-to-day issues in the workplace is getting less and less. These are often relegated to a bullet point in the production meeting agenda at the start or end of the workday.
I have seen and visited many companies that believe they are a Lean Enterprise. The problem is obvious, the only time their management team is in the work areas is when they are following someone around to discuss what they think of their facility. It takes one pair of eyes to see where problems are affecting their processes. However, they can easily conduct regular Gemba walks with their supervisors and/or line managers, and this will have several pairs of eyes looking at their work areas.
So back to the question: â€œWhat is Lean Management?â€ Well, it is not the ability to remove you from the responsibilities of implementing Lean principles and then delegating them down to a supervisor or line manager. Lean Management is a commitment to participate in the disciplined processes necessary to change the culture of an organization towards becoming a Lean Enterprise. This requires input from the top at the executive management level and all the way down to the shop floor. As I travel, I find one thing to be a common problem in many business organizations. The person who is negotiating to solicit my services is usually at the Department Management level. In many cases, I do not see or talk with the CEO or any member of the executive management team from one visit to the next. So, what is this telling me about a business?
It tells me that the level of commitment is not where is should be throughout the organization. It tells me that the management team does not understand the meaning of â€œGenchi Gembutsu.â€ It tells me that the responsibility for implementing Lean has been delegated to a lower level person in the organization who has little influence over the outcome. Overall, it clearly demonstrates that any organization that thinks and acts this way is not really committed to learning or succeeding in any of their continuous improvement goals.