AME: Lean lassoes, roping in sustained results
Nearly two decades of integrating Lean across a variety of industries has shown that incremental improvement is the best way to engage employees, sustain results, and create measurable progress.
You've completed a number of Kaizen events. You've experienced significant improvements in process flow and employee engagement. But now you're faced with the challenge of connecting pockets of improvement to create a smooth and interconnected workflow.
This is the point at which sustained success in Lean begins or ends. It's the point at which you either accept the varied pockets of improvement as "good enough" or you stay committed to the journey and begin the more difficult work of building upon incremental improvements through the use of what I like to call Lean lassoes.
Fundamentally, incremental improvement is the objective of Lean. Organizational transformation isn't created overnight nor should we ever attempt such a large-scale project in short succession. Nearly two decades of integrating Lean across a variety of industries has shown me that incremental improvement is the best way to engage employees, sustain results and create measurable progress. In my opinion, anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is wrong.
Lean lassoes are minute adjustments meant to remove, redesign or reconstruct any kinks between processes, creating a smoother workflow. There are numerous Lean lassoes, the application of which may vary depending on the "current" state of the organization in its lean journey.
Here are the three most common lassoes that fit in virtually any circumstance:
As process improvements create ebbs and flows across the value stream, it can become increasingly clear that some work groups or areas are busier than others. This may be the result of a specific change made to a process or it may in fact result from business seasonality or other cyclical influences. Regardless, the only way to manage these fluctuations effectively is to place greater focus on cross-functionality. This can take the form of cross-functional working groups that share work based on fluctuations in demand, or it may be introduced through cross-training and increased workforce flexibility. Either way, the more cross-functional employees can become, the more nimble the organization will be.
Forums for improvement
If managed effectively, lean deployment will provide employees with a voice. To sustain employees' engagement, you need to create venues to let them use their voice. Otherwise, similar to laryngitis, the voice (and engagement) will diminish.
Personally, I've found that holding frequent forums to allow employees voice ideas for improvements and opportunities is a great way to weed out any kinks in an otherwise improved process. It also serves to grow the dialog around what improvements need to be considered.
The more you allow employees the opportunity to voice their opinions, the more engaged they will become in generating new ideas and taking action to resolve issues.
Business demands change --- from new customers and new products to changes in tolerances and demands from various stakeholders. These constant changes require a means to ensure that introductions of or adjustments to processes are not done in isolation.
Enter "Design for User" working groups. These are groups of employees from various work functions who are tasked with the objective of designing new processes or making improvements to existing ones. Consider these like "mini-Kaizen teams" without a facilitator. These workgroups build on the lassoes outlined above and empower employees to identify and design new or revised work processes in order to sustain improvements.
If you've found that various Kaizen events have left you blitzed out, focus your energy on creating lean lassoes that will de-kink and sustain your efforts, encourage ongoing employee engagement and empowerment to continue to take action.
Shawn Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Company, Incorporated, a management consultancy helping organizations globally to improve organizational performance and build financial strength. This content originally appeared on AME Target Magazine Online. AME is a content partner of CFE Media. Edited by Joy Chang, Digital Project Manager, CFE Media, jchang(at)cfemedia.com.
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