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Making the lean manufacturing management commitment

In order for a lean initiative to be successful, lean manufacturing management must be willing to commit to implementation and training plans. Strong lean manufacturing leadership is able to evaluate what lean needs to do and solve problems down the road.

In order for a lean initiative to be successful, lean manufacturing management must be willing to commit to implementation and training plans. In this excerpt from chapter 8 of the book How to Implement Lean Manufacturing, find out how strong lean manufacturing leadership can evaluate what lean needs to do and solve problems down the road.

Table of contents:
Creating a lean implementation plan
Building a business case for lean implementation
Making the lean manufacturing management commitment

Appendix A--The Second Commitment Evaluation of Management Commitment

The Process of the Second Commitment Evaluation

The second commitment evaluation should be done in a facilitated session, which your sensei should be capable of facilitating. It is not unusual to take a full day for this evaluation and problem-solving session.

Excerpted from How to Implement Lean Manufacturing by Lonnie Wilson (McGraw-Hill; 2009) with permission from McGraw-Hill. Download the PDF here.

As preparation for this session, make sure each manager has a copy of The Five Tests of Management Commitment to a Lean Initiative. In addition, ask them to do a personal evaluation, and also an evaluation of the management group as a whole. When you ask them to do these evaluations, tell them the results from the tests are personal and will not be shared.

What you want to do is uncover the issues, frame the issues into problems, and begin the problem solving to eliminate the issues. Actually, most of the issues will be known, but most will be difficult for people to discuss and bring out in the open. We find that once the problems are on the table, 70 percent of them solve themselves. However, you will also find that some problems are more difficult to solve.

The agenda could be something like:

  1. Group icebreaker on teamwork.
  2. Break into small groups of five to seven and ask each group to answer the question, "What is commitment?" You and the sensei should move from group to group to make sure they are on track. Give them about 15 minutes for this exercise. This is for the small group's purpose only.
  3. Follow this by bringing everyone together in a group discussion facilitated by the sensei about "How do we measure commitment?" This must be done in a "spin-around" brainstorming session using strict brainstorming rules. Document this discussion and all subsequent steps on flipcharts that you will post on the walls of the meeting room. Beyond posting the flipcharts, nothing more needs to be done with this session. Very likely, you will want a break here.
  4. Again facilitated by the sensei, do a brainstorm of, "What are our problems with commitment?", or tackle a similar question. Document all the comments, concerns, and issues on flipcharts and post them. Make no effort at this point to discuss, validate, or reduce the list in any form. Just let it sit there. I cannot emphasize those last two sentences enough. This step, to be effective, must be totally nonjudgmental.
  5. A group exercise on values may be appropriate at this point. Many exist. I like the "Lifeboat Decision." In this story, ten people have clambered onto a lifeboat, but it will only hold seven. Thus, three must be thrown overboard and they will die. If you do not throw three overboard, all ten will die. For instance, in the boat are a young child, a blind man, a priest, a prostitute, a mother and her baby, a grandmother, a convicted killer (who is strong and muscular) … well, you get the picture. There are no right answers. It just forces the group to discuss values. It is a great exercise.
  6. At this point, if there are many problems on the list you made in step 4, discuss each item in turn until the group is reacquainted with the list. The discussion must be "to a point of understanding"--we still do not want to pass judgment on the projects. We only want to understand the context of the problem.
  7. If the list is large, we will need to select the most critical problems. It is likely that we have a number of very good projects, so almost any from the top of the list will be productive to solve. To find a few of the better projects, use nominal group technique or multivoting to select say the top four or five. Once this is done, we need to select just one of these projects to work on. Probably the sensei could say something like, "We will eventually solve all these problems, but for the first problem I would like to see the group solve the problem of…"
  8. For the first problem, brainstorm. "What are the thoughts, concerns, issues, and so forth about this problem?" When the group has all the issues down on paper, do not reduce this list. Instead, proceed to the next step.
  9. For this first problem, brainstorm again: "What are the possible solutions?" When the group has all the possible solutions down on paper, do nothing more with this list for the moment. Instead, proceed to the next step.
  10. Conduct another brainstorming session on "What are the key criteria we will use in our decision-making process?" Discuss this and reach a consensus. This second step of reaching consensus on the criteria is often difficult. If you are not familiar with consensus, it is not disagreement, nor need it be 100 percent agreement. It is the concept whereby everyone involved can say, "I may agree with the group decision or I may not agree with it, but regardless, I recognize it is in the group's best interest and I will give it my 100 percent support and commitment." Like I said, it is not easy, but to reach consensus on this step is crucial.
  11. Select the best of the possible solutions, and then develop action plans with responsibilities and due dates. Very often after the consensus on the criteria is reached, the process moves very rapidly.
  12. Return to step 7, select the next problem, and move on.

It is important that the group completely resolve at least one problem. If they can and want to take on more than one problem, that is even better. However, here the major benefit comes not from the problem solution itself. Instead, it comes from the process of solving the problem. The Spin-Around technique requires:

  • Good listening
  • Understanding problems from different perspectives
  • Nonjudgmental discussion
  • Introspection
  • Patience and respect shown by all, to all

Frequently, these are behavioral traits that are not found in abundance in the typical manufacturing plant environment. Consequently, and nearly always, the results of the process are more both important and more lasting than the actual problem that was solved. Following this, facilitated spin-around--the managers will be better equipped to work together to solve their problems. In addition, they now have a behavioral model they can take back to their individual groups to use in resolving their own internal issues.

It has been my experience that this evaluation is a very sensitive one--everyone thinks they are committed, but this is simply not the truth. I wish I could give you a prescription on how to do this comfortably, but I can't. The best advice I can give you is to do it--but do it carefully.

Simply because there is a possible downside is no reason to avoid it--yet avoid it is precisely what most people do. Unfortunately, when either fear or denial sets in and begins to rule the culture, the progress stops and the end is in sight. There is no substitute for simply fighting through these two problems of fear and denial, because they will appear again and again. Many of these issues test the courage and the character of the Lean initiative leadership. If they waver, the effort will suffer.

There is a wonderful quote from a movie where the protagonist, who is only 17, has thousands of dollars of video and sound equipment that he purchased with the profits from his marijuana sales. When he was asked by a friend if his father knows how he financed the purchases, he says, roughly, "My Dad thinks I can afford this on my minimum wage job," and then adds, "never underestimate the power of denial." This is true of denial, and the same maxim applies to fear as well.

Both fear and denial are two extremely powerful detractors that will rear their ugly heads time and again as you pursue this journey into Lean. The leadership has to be aware of these issues and must handle them in a professional and open fashion. This is necessary for the success of your Lean effort … well, for any effort you might embark upon.

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This was last published in October 2009

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