Future of Lean Thinking: The Making of Lean Manager

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”  – Confucius

The Lean Manager is the lynchpin.  Without the right person and the right philosophy, the process from transformation to continuous improvement culture is purely a waste of time and efforts. From the leader of the organization to the leader on the gemba, these are the people who determine the course of the people and the company towards the lean thinking culture.

Over the years the lean practitioners around the world have gathered knowledge on use of various tools. Wisdom has led us to believe that a systems approach rather than just focusing on tools is essential for a long term results. We cannot succeed by imitating others; a cultural change is a must! So what is next? The next shift in thinking would be to understand the change at personal level. That is to understand the mind of lean manager and how one transforms into a person of scientific thinking.

Why should we be interested in the making of a lean manager? The answer lies outside the normal realm of management and business. Business goals and management tools are just merely tools and will not be effective if the people using them not fully understand the art and science of problem solving. Yes it is partly art because, how a manager selects the right tool to solve the problem depends mostly on his experience and intuition. The chaos in the everyday operation of any business will easily make an average manager stray away from the real purpose. Daily firefighting, running after vanity metrics, useless reporting are enough distractions to convert a manager into a mindless zombie. Then a feeling of unfulfillment, depression sets in. One does not think before we act, “There is no time to do it right, but always time to do it all over again”. A manager whose fundamental thinking is not conditioned and mental character is not strong will easily succumb to these pressures. How do we train ourselves to be strong mentally and with the values and conduct that act as our anchor to survive the storm of our daily work life? Personal development using the methods and philosophies such as zen may have a lot to teach us.

There is a need for an unconventional guide for a manager who wants to be a “Lean manager”. This may not be a guide for everyone; and may only be suitable for people who think of Lean as a religion and who are not afraid of changing themselves in the quest for understanding how to change others for good. We should also consider dealing with things outside the office world on how to create a right lifestyle to be a perfect lean thinker.

The failure of many companies to apply lean has shown us that just imitating the methods is not a good path to take. Learning from experience is an accepted by many but it is hard to create environment where failures are accepted as part learning process. Most of the time this important process is side stepped as everything needs to be done yesterday; there is no time for failure. Thus a foresight about the potential problems is necessary. This means learning by reflection and practicing failures ahead of time. We need to learn about how to prepare our mind to reflect and how to practice lean in our daily life. This will help us build a strong foundation of principles and values that any lean manager should embrace.

There are certain traits, intrinsic characteristics, or cultural background that will either help or prevent the transformation of a manager to a Lean Manager. So now the question is:

Are Lean Managers born? Or Are they made?


3 thoughts on “Future of Lean Thinking: The Making of Lean Manager”

  1. I do tend to agree with your statements, and I also know first hand the issues that get in the way of the culture change that is Lean. However, to address your question – Lean Managers are made. The problem is that organizations today don’t measure success based on Lean metrics. We still chase variance and revenue and think we control those items. We have not yet learned that these are not a measure of how well we perform, but of how well we budget.

    A true Lean Manager is the individual that can stand between the corporate management that requires financial measures and the shop floor that can only impact the transformation process and develop metrics that are measurable in manufacturing but yield results on financial performance.

    Does that require experience in both areas? – Yes. Does it require the courage to stand behind your committment when the short term results are not where they should be? – Absolutely. Is it easy? – Definitely not.

    The culture change has to begin somewhere. Shareholders won’t drive this. As managers, our role is to be that catalyst. We have to be willing to stand up for what we know is in the best interest of the organization even when the the short term results are not there. We also have to be willing to support the goal even when our critics are very vocal.

    Remember – this is a culture change, and culture changes are never easy. This group know what it takes to run your factories. Our challenge is to find new ways to communicate effectively with the financial and corporate management explaining why this is necessary to insure the long term success of the organization. If you can do this, you can be a Lean Manager. Otherwise, you will face challenges at every turn.

  2. Thanks Jim for the link, I had reviewed the website earlier. Now I see how the kata can be used for teaching and solving problems. Just bought my copy of the book, anxious to read and apply it in real life.

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