Lean is respect for people and continuous improvement. It is all the small steps and daily aspirations to achieve an organization steeped in this culture that is typical of Lean. STEPS can be a rule of thumb that reminds us of five important things as a manager and employee of a Lean organization. These are not only things we should keep in mind but have completely in front of our foreheads in our daily lives.
Set the customer in focus
Everyone who has taken an interest in Lean has become aware that it is the customer who should be the focus. Nevertheless, we see that our organizations and way of working are listening to the academic communities rather than customers. I was once a little involved in the development of a new product in a sausage factory. They had a highly qualified team working on the project, consisting of several professionals in nutrition, cooking, sausage production and more.
What was typical, however, was that the team had a clear goal in mind, namely, to develop a product that customers wanted. The team eventually came up with a few different alternative solutions, and then they brought in a group of people from the market to test the product. The members of the team with their professional background had an idea of which option was best, but ultimately it was the customer panel's opinion that determined which option was chosen. If an expert group has a clear goal of finding the best solution for the customer, and if the customer can decide which option is chosen, then the result will be successful.
Train on skills
Competence is important in all organizations, but competence is not just knowledge. We often say that competence consists of knowledge, skills, attitudes and abilities. In a Lean organization, it is the effective processes that give the results. If the processes are to be effective, the people who perform the tasks must be well trained. In other words, skills are the most important element of the concept of competence, not knowledge. When we need to increase the competence and execution ability of a Lean organization, we achieve this by having a good process, training the employees in the process by daily "on-The-job training", and with good coaching.
Give your employees a role where they search for even better ways to accomplish the process and have a system where employees can experiment with improvements to their own process. Toyota Kata is a pattern to work on in a scientific improvement process that everyone can be involved in.
The scientific improvement process consists of a clear goal or target condition to work towards, and to experiment with new solutions. The pattern we follow is a cycle in which, based on the target condition, we conduct an experiment. As a coach and manager, we support the employees and give them the opportunity to test ideas. After completing the experiment, ask what the result was. What did we learn, was the result as expected, or do we have to do something else? This leads to a new experiment. With daily small experiments, we constantly achieve improvements, we reach the target condition we have set, and we solve challenges. When everyone in an organization is trained to work on experiments, and when everyone with managerial responsibility uses their everyday life to Coach their employees, we develop continuous improvement and lean.
Point in a direction
If we are going to work on improvements, we must have a clear common direction throughout the organization, in the local community or in the country. When everyone has a common understanding of where we are going, everyone works in the same direction and we get good development and great effect from the improvement work. This is one of those things that is often not taken seriously. New measures are constantly being discussed, but the measures are not based on a common goal, or a clear direction. Development is slow, or stagnant, even though large activity and many cases are carried out. We often call such a direction a Vision, and it is important that it is so simple and understandable that we can reference it in every single case and every single experiment we are going to perform. It must not become a woolly, bland term or slogan.
Support your employees
If you are employed as a manager, you usually have two roles, management and administration. Some managers also become case officers or executing operators. Our goal, as a leader, is to make the organization we lead a little better every day. Our most important resources in this challenge are our employees, and in order to succeed, we must lead in such a way that we succeed together. We must pay attention to our employees and colleagues, listen and support, and not fall for the temptation to develop a culture based on command and control.