Lean on me: Lead the lean way

Posted on 10 Jul 2012

Roberto Priolo, editor of TM’s sister publication Lean Management Journal, shares a sneak peek into the next issue of LMJ and looks back at the best content in the previous edition.

Roberto Priolo, Editor, Lean Management Journal
Roberto Priolo, Editor, Lean Management Journal

I attended a conference on lean healthcare in Minneapolis a few weeks ago, and a woman I spoke with, who works for the Lean Transformations Group, told me that she knew a firm whose staff thought lean is an acronym for “less employees are needed”.

While this helped me understand that healthcare faces the same austerity difficulties as companies in other sectors, it also prompted another train of thought.

It’s easy to say that lean, even as a word, has a negative connotation. This may be true, but ultimately the responsibility for letting people understand lean does not intrinsically mean jobs will be cut lies with the leaders. They must ensure employees realise the powerful methodology behind each piece of Japanese jargon. And communicate that the end result of implementation will be to make their jobs easier, customers more satisfied and help the company as a whole improve its performance.

“In the July/August issue of LMJ, we read about the fundamental role that leader standard work plays in driving continuous improvement.” Roberto Priolo, Editor, Lean Management Journal

Leaders set the vision and need to learn how to lead the ‘lean way’, by asking questions and ‘going see’ at the gemba. This may sound obvious to many practitioners, but far fewer CEOs and managing director seem to attend lean conference, seminars and workshops than do line, operations or plant managers. Either they are scared of raising their hands when the conference chairs asks the audience how many leaders are there, or they believe there are more pressing matters they need to focus on. Either way, they are missing out on valuable education and failing to step up to their responsibilities as figureheads.

This is one of the reasons why so many continuous improvement programmes fail miserably. In Robin Howlett’s article in the July/August issue of LMJ, we read about the fundamental role that leader standard work plays in driving continuous improvement. This becomes even more important when we consider that CEOs and other senior management positions can come and go much more quickly than long serving shop floor staff in many sectors. Having to start from scratch each time a new leader is appointed dampens enthusiasm.

Looking back
The July/August issue of Lean Management Journal went to great lengths to let the voice of employees be heard, with line operators, public sector lean practitioners and sometimes entire teams, sharing their experience of lean and their opinions on how it changed the way business is done.

Our special feature on the East Midlands Ambulance Service represented a great example of how IT and systems thinking were used together to develop a wide and ambitious programme of improvement.

Our special on lean in Hungary showed how, as with other countries in the region, lean is taking its first steps, spearheaded by large corporations promoting a culture of continuous improvement in their local subsidiaries.

The September issue of the journal will explore the role of leadership, which is one of the most debated issues in the lean community. John Bicheno, LMJ’s editorial director, will contribute an article on leadership that feature in the ‘Principles & Purpose’ section of the journal.

We will also have a case study on Lake Region Medical, a manufacturer of medical devices whose standard work model is used as a benchmark by many companies operating in the industry in Ireland, and a regional special on lean in Brazil – a nation on the lips of many in the business community thanks to its extraordinary growth rate.