Is Lean being made too confusing?

A discussion: “Lean is being made too confusing for its own good!”

18 February 2021 – In a change of format, the EU-Japan Centre’s Lean Café featured a discussion between Kevin Robinson, Managing Director of Opex Performance Solutions Ltd and Prof. Richard Keegan, the EU-Japan Centre's Lean Advisor and Adjunct Professor of Lean Operational Excellence, Trinity Business School. The topic of the discussion was, “Lean is being made too confusing for its own good!”.
During the wide-ranging discussion, Kevin reflected on his three decades of hands-on leadership experience in manufacturing operations with Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK and shared insights acquired during his professional career. Kevin explained that Lean today is a “sea of confusion” with everyone focused on lean tools. Whilst they are all great tools and can deliver fine things, they can’t bring about sustainable change. For that real teamwork is essential, with everyone working together to solve problems. At Toyota, challenges are fine because everyone knows not to take the challenges personally – they are between functions, not people.

Kevin is convinced that to get the best results it is important to realise that no one comes to work to do a bad job and that every day is a learning opportunity for everyone in the organisation, including the leaders. The leaders’ role is to support, coach and be great role models. For this to work, leaders need to be on the shopfloor – Kevin estimated that 70% of a Toyota leader’s time is spent on the shopfloor, with office work being done at the end of production.
If a leader sees that a team member has a problem, (s)he has to decide whether (s)he can afford to let the thing fail. If so, by the leader letting the thing fail, the team member can learn from it. If not, the leader provides coaching to let the team member find the answer for themselves. In the vast majority of cases, Kevin felt that mistakes were not caused by people choosing not to follow management’s expectations but because the management had either not trained the person in the expectation or had failed to confirm that the person had the ability to follow that expectation. In the few cases, where this was not the case, there were conditions present that prevented the team member from following the expectation.
Building consensus is therefore the key to resolving conflict. Consensus doesn’t mean you will necessarily get your way, but you will have a decision that everyone can accept. Everyone should give their point of view and understand everyone else’s position. The plant leader’s role is to say that after listening to everyone’s view this is what we’ll do. Kevin cautioned against addressing only ‘fire-fighting’ at daily meetings. Fire-fighting discussions are important but should be separate from problem-solving / process improvement meetings. 60 people followed the discussion and submitted questions for Richard to put to Kevin. You can watch the full session via this link.

The next Lean Café will take place on Thursday, 25 March and will address lean services. John Maxwell, Head of Continuous Improvement at Ireland’s National Treasury Management Agency will be the guest presenter. Book your place.

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