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Visual Management in a Lean Organization

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November 25, 2011 - 7:49pm -- klacomb

Guest blogger “OU Professor (‘Doman on Lean’ Blog)”

As I have said in past blogs, the Lean System (from the design of the visual workplace and to the use of lean tools etc.) is focused on highlighting problems so that trained and motivated employees can work together to solve the problems and continuously improve performance.

As I said before, that’s how Lean companies produce the highest quality at the lowest cost with the shortest lead time for their customers. They love finding problems because they have a system designed to identify problems and teams of employees trained and ready to fix them fast.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the first step in the people side of lean is the TEAM organization structure. Lean is not an individual sport. It is a team game. We, as Americans, really understand team structures and teamwork when it comes to sports like football, hockey, basketball, NASCAR racing etc. but we forget about its importance when we walk into work on Monday morning.
The best Lean companies start with teams. And those teams strive to be like the lightning fast NASCAR pit crews that know exactly what to do (standardized work) and work constantly to eliminate any waste/MUDA from the process. The pit crews practice over and over to remove any waste from the process so that they can execute their roles perfectly and as fast as possible in their pursuit of team victory.
Lean companies start with teams as their basic organizational building block. They hire people who work well on teams. Their compensation system has a big team componenet. They emphasize teamwork and team problem solving—just like the NASCAR pit crews.
The NASCAR pit crew should be the model for the frontline work team and throughout the organization. Six to seven team members who know their respective roles inside and out and are cross trained to know everybody else’s role on the team and are ready, willing and able to jump in at a moment’s notice to help out and fix a problem.
If the “norm” for your organization is a traditional top down, managementà employee, command and control type of organization structure, it’s hard to sustain a lean transformation. Employees don’t feel like team members and are less willing to identify problems and “go the extra mile” to fix a problem. They are waiting to be told what to do. If the line goes down, they get a rest until someone else fixes it. In a Lean company, that’s when the team really jumps into action and they know exactly how to respond just like the NASCAR pit crew.
Teams, team members, team leaders, teamwork and team problem solving—that’s the heartbeat of Lean. People like to be a valued member of a team. It’s not peer pressure, it’s team pride that motivates them to do what it takes to win. And in this brutal global marketplace, that’s what it takes to survive and prosper.