When I decided to do a post on who should be involved in Lean, I Googled the question. I was quite surprised that no content specific to this query came up. Maybe it’s because people just assume the answer is either “everyone,” or “you’ll know if it’s you.” However, I think it’s worth taking some time to think about the various roles of folks who can contribute to a successful Lean implementation.
We’ve had the chance to chat with people who have experienced wildly successful Lean transitions and those who’ve been involved in epic flops. The one thing that all of the effective implementations have in common is active and engaged executive leaders. Only top-level leaders can create the culture that is necessary for Lean to thrive. They set the example, provide the resources, and ultimately determine the direction of the company. Lean is successful when improvement and innovation are imperatives for leaders. The C-suite is also responsible for investing in Lean by providing technology, training, and recognition.
Managers and Supervisors
When it comes to the day-to-day impact of Lean thinking, managers and supervisors are critical to success. They have the responsibility for coordinating all improvement work and deploying Lean techniques such as Catchball, value stream mapping, 5S, and so forth. Managers are tasked with coaching team members, ensuring that Standard work is in place and up-to-date, documenting the results of improvement work, and deciding which opportunities for improvement to implement.
Subject Matter Experts
It is likely that there are people in your organization who have specialized, in-depth knowledge about specific topics. These subject matter experts are a valuable resource when it comes to Lean. Teams shouldn’t always defer to the experts, but their wisdom and experience should be made available when needed. Subject matter experts make great facilitators during Kaizen events or when the 5 Whys technique is used.
Front Line Employees
The people who perform any process are the people in the best position to spot opportunities for improvement, make suggestions for positive change, and implement those changes. If you don’t have front-line employees involved, you aren’t really doing Lean. The key to active engagement of every employee is goal alignment. Everyone should understand how his or her individual goals and performance measurements tie back to the overall goals of the organization. That puts them in the position to make great decisions, and actively innovate to move the organization forward.
It might seem odd to call out HR, but human resources serves a vital function in Lean. The ability to adopt the Lean mindset and adhere to its principles should be a key criterion in hiring new employees. HR is also often tasked with employee onboarding and training so that they can put Lean front and center. HR should also be involved in employee performance management, another opportunity to recognize and reward employees who actively engage in positive change.
This might also be a surprising addition to the list. How are customers involved in something as internal as Lean? Remember that, in Lean, all value is defined by the customer. The goal is to eliminate any waste that does not equate to customer value. Many processes have internal customers, but ultimately it is external customers who will decide if your products or services have a place in the market. The best way to figure out what they value is to ask them and monitor their behavior. Find out which features and functions they use and which they couldn’t care less about.
Suppliers and Procurement Staff
Another external contingency that may be able to contribute to your Lean efforts is your suppliers. Lean leaders seek to reduce the wastes of motion and inventory (among others). There may be improvements to be made by changing how you work with suppliers. Would more frequent deliveries of raw materials reduce waste? Could different packaging options or delivery methods lead to improvement? It makes sense to partner with suppliers who understand your Lean goals and will work with you to streamline supply related processes.
The Lean methodology is really meant to impact every corner of the organization. However, that won’t happen on its own. Leaders need to put considerable thought into how to support Lean across every function and level and make sure that all of the players are in the game.