by Kevin Saboori

Today's Environment

We see it all too often: An organization launches a Lean initiative with the goal to drive change within its business culture, only to lose steam after failing to see any meaningful results. What happened?

More to the point, what didn't happen?

Without the right resources, tools, training and support, employees tend to stick with the status quo. Without standardized core processes, process variations make it impossible to quickly identify the problems that must be solved to drive continuous improvement. And without strong, active leadership from the beginning, employees won't feel empowered to make improvements. In fact, when Lean efforts fail, a lack of engaged, accountable leadership is often the biggest factor of all.

Point B's Perspective

Point B works with leading organizations to deliver on the tangible and transformative power of Lean across   a variety of industries, including health care, financial services and retail.

In order for companies to make continuous improvement a reality, we recommend a well-designed Daily Management System (DMS). DMS is a Lean approach that drives continuous improvement through the daily participation and accountability of those closest to the process. It engages leadership and empowers front-line staff to take action on the most critical processes to get desired results, such as improving customer satisfaction and reducing waste. It focuses on tangible results that people can measure. Over time, a DMS becomes an organic part of the way teams work every day, and provides a clear framework for creating a culture of continuous improvement.

Anatomy of a Daily Management System

Here's a brief look at some common components of a DMS. Together, they create a virtuous cycle of consistency, communication, action and feedback:

Standard Work gives employees a way to document the tasks, roles, and conditions of success of their processes to help them do their work consistently well – created and owned by those who do it. These standardized processes document current best practices for the most efficient way to perform a task. They also serve as the baseline for continuous improvement, as the employees who use the standard process keep working to improve it.

Visual Management establishes visual controls, typically via a display board, that help teams monitor, measure, quantify and align performance. It makes the status of problem-solving and progress visible to all, and promotes exceptions-based management.

Huddles play a daily role in the power of a DMS to drive change. They bring people together in brief meetings of 10 to 15 minutes around the Visual Management display. Huddles make it daily habit for teams to evaluate their progress, share information, manage capacity, surface potential problems, and identify gaps or opportunities using a shared Visual Management tool.

Continuous Improvement is facilitated by the leader to develop problem solvers who feel empowered to make changes within the organization. Leaders who use problem-solving methodology, starting with small achievable wins and graduating to larger, more complex issues will find the most success. Build credibility with this approach by supporting teams in the implementation of each improvement and eliminating roadblocks.

Creating these components is easy. The challenge is in consistently using them in effective ways to drive change. That's where leadership comes in.

The critical role that leaders play

DMS requires active leaders who are in for the journey even before it's begun. We find that executive leaders usually like the idea of a DMS, but are not sure how to implement it. They realize it's not enough to throw DMS tools and methods at their teams without context, support, coaching and guidance.

From the top: clear intent and communications

Top leadership can begin by developing and sharing a clear message as to why the organization is embarking on a DMS. This is a big lift that requires executives to communicate expectations, lead by example, and provide relevant tools at all levels of the organization.

It's ideal to kick off implementation with a few teams that are most open to change and can serve as effective DMS ambassadors. These enthusiasts can share their excitement, demonstrate DMS in action, and show some quick wins. They can become early contributors to a community of learning by example, where employees see peers working with leadership and using the DMS to make continuous improvement.

Leader Standard Work: start engaged, stay engaged

DMS require leaders to get out of their offices and conference rooms to ask questions, stay curious, and serve as a ready resource to drive improvement. A DMS outlines the need for what it calls Leader Standard Work, which is critical for the continued support of DMS from the ground level. This work includes joining daily huddles, facilitating problem solving, coaching team members, and more.

Some leaders must overcome the notion that joining daily huddles will take too much time and will only rehash other meetings. While longer, off-line meetings may be needed at times to solve complex problems, the power of a huddle is its intense focus and frequency. It can be the most valuable 15 minutes of a leader's day.

Gemba Walks are another visible show of leadership in action. In Lean vernacular, Gemba means "the real place,"—where the work gets done. In Gemba Walks, leaders go to that source, getting out of their offices and spending time with their teams. The more opportunities they have to see how a process is working, coach employees to spot waste, drive change, look at a process differently and eliminate roadblocks, the more they will further develop a culture of continuous improvement.

Practices such as daily huddles and Gemba Walks multiply the opportunities to make incremental changes that can add up to big wins over time. That's the beauty of continuous improvement.

The Bottom Line

It's amazing what can happen when a DMS is firing on all cylinders. Teams are more efficient and empowered when they have standard core processes. They can visually track their progress toward high-priority goals. They can use their daily huddle to address issues and share new ideas. They can contribute to a business culture of active, continuous improvement. In order to do all this, they need to know that leadership not only has their backs, but is out in front – where leadership is meant to be.