I’m a little bit ashamed to admit this, but I’ve never really had a Lean mentor or had any great Lean leadership ahead of me in my career.
There hasn’t been a Lean or continuous improvement champion that has taken me under their tutelage to show me what a successful Lean program looks like or how to organize one. Anywhere I’ve been I’ve either been the on-site Lean leader with limited clout and influence, following a continuous improvement manager who couldn’t provide much guidance since his hand was in too many cookie jars, or been a part of wavering priorities.
This is for various reasons. At one former employer we were more focused on using the tools and demonstrating our tool competence instead of focusing on the big picture, the value stream, identifying opportunities for improvement and locations of wasteful activities, and implementing change for the better.
Another company was the epitome of LINO (Lean In Name Only) – maintaining a Lean department only to appease customers that required suppliers to be lean.
Yet another company said “Oh yeah, we’re Lean” by way of stretching their employees too think with too limited of resources.
I could go on…but the only way I was able to obtain Lean education and training was by taking the initiative on my own. I’ve worked on projects on the side with little-to-no funding because they were going to have a large bottom-line impact. I’ve copied strategies from other companies doing things well and attempted to replicate them in a culture with limited interest. I’ve read books, studied and received certifications, written articles, and reached out to other experts in the “industry” of Lean.
Why is this a good thing? Because I’m not running off of instinct – I’m basing my knowledge on hands-on experience and personally-driven education. I understand that change is hard, so I can better relate to those who are having changes happen to them. (I realize this is not the end goal of Lean – we want process users to help drive the changes to make their lives better.)
But this is also a tough road to follow because so many missed steps could have been avoided by having a mentor. I’ve done a lot of trial-and-error because I had no other test environment or someone around me to let me know about their experiences and how it relates.
That’s why it’s important for leadership to be not only competent and well-versed in continuous improvement but also demonstrate as much by providing staff-level positions to continuous improvement leaders that are peers with accounting, finance, operations, logistics, etc. Lean is not a guy in a corner shop you call over when a process is inefficient. It’s a philosophy that touches every single function.
The point is that Lean must be supported by the population and by the leadership if continuous improvement is a priority. Lean and continuous improvement direction can make or break a company – why not put it at the front of the progress charge?
I’m fortunate in that my situations did not discourage me. In fact, it has driven me to seek out the best philosophy for niche markets to consider and implement – I want to provide Lean leadership that brings positive impact to all stakeholders.