WOMACK’S YOKOTEN – The author looks at hoshin planning, A3 thinking and daily management as the three key elements of a lean management system, and highlights the related behaviors that will allow lean to thrive.
Words: Jim Womack, Founder and Senior Advisor, Lean Enterprise Institute
When I started the Lean Enterprise Institute twenty years ago this summer, things went swimmingly until I added our third employee. Employee Number Two and I had had an easy time talking about problems and what do about them. But when Employee Number Three arrived to what suddenly became a two-department organization (operations and conferences), I immediately found that each wanted to talk to me one-on-one about problems involving both departments. Neither had a means to engage the other – to work together – in a constructive conversation about the nature of the problem and the best way to address it without involving me.
I knew from twenty previous years of experience managing large, global projects at MIT that this was the way of the world. And I could imagine that our management problems would grow steadily as we scaled our activities and boxes were added to our organizational chart. More and more problems and conflicts were certain to land on my desk. So, I started thinking about the elements of a lean management system that could create a social basis for jointly discussing problems and seizing opportunities so everyone could work together at the right level of the organization on the best countermeasures and initiatives to try.
Over time, LEI settled on three key elements for this system: hoshin planning for big leaps in performance (engaging every organizational level from top to bottom), A3 analysis (usually incorporating value stream maps) for steady improvement at every level of the organization, and daily management to create and sustain basic stability. (These have worked well. But, of course, they are always subject to annual evaluation and improvement. Nothing is perfect.)
In recent years, we have made steady progress in our campaign to popularize the three elements of lean management across the Lean Community. I hoped (indeed, assumed) that these methods on their own would create the social basis for constructive conversations about sustaining and improving performance in every part of every organization. But as I walk through many organizations across the world, what I commonly see is something quite different.
As I’ve reflected on this situation I have never wavered in my belief that hoshin planning, A3 analysis, and daily management are the essential tools for lean management. And I’m convinced that successfully deploying them can bring everyone together, just as the conductor brings all of the parts together in the orchestra or chorus. But I have increasingly realized that these methods are being deployed without attention to the social context and management mindsets that can make them effective. So what have I learned about creating a social context and management beliefs that can bring people together?
The theme of each of these approaches is to make someone responsible for leading the analysis, to take rapid and achievable action, and to make everyone whole. Doing this creates the reassuring social context that keeps every employee and manager focused on maintaining stability and moving performance steadily upward over time, knowing that they are respected for their knowledge and abilities and are protected from contradictory and impossible demands.
But wait: What about the earnest CI and OpEx team members who must feel maligned by the proceeding discussion (and who are probably the great bulk of readers?!) What is their role in a properly designed lean management system? My answer is that instead of solving problems directly, as most do today, they need to teach line managers how to develop hoshin plans, how to write good A3s, and how to perform daily management with rapid response to every problem. To do this they will probably need to demonstrate each of these methods the first time and then coach line managers as they try to perform these activities on their own. Over time staff teams need to develop better managers who can countermeasure most of the problems they encounter rather than delegating them to OpEx teams. Doing this creates the final element in a complete lean management system to bring everyone together.
Management expert James P. Womack, is the founder and senior advisor to the Lean Enterprise Institute. The intellectual basis for the Cambridge, MA-based Institute is described in a series of books and articles co-authored by Jim himself and Daniel Jones over the past 25 years. During the period 1975-1991, he was a full-time research scientist at MIT directing a series of comparative studies of world manufacturing practices. As research director of MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program, Jim led the research team that coined the term “lean production” to describe Toyota’s business system. He served as LEI’s chairman and CEO from 1997 until 2010 when he was succeeded by John Shook.