Thursday, September 22, 2011

Structure and Teams That Promote a Culture of Continuous Improvement

"Start as soon as possible to construct with deliberate speed 
an organization to guide continual improvement of quality."            
- W. Edwards Deming

Lean success is sustained only when leaders and managers develop the environment, structures and aligned incentives to foster an educated and trained workforce that is empowered to work horizontally along the path of workflow. This is the key to obtaining the hundreds of small, granular process improvements done at the level of the work that the employees truly own.  A Lean culture is successful when workers are informed by metrics of work variation and empowered to make change, in concert with their leader, using the scientific method, e.g., data-driven PDCA.  Transformation to this culture of work and the structures designed to foster this manner of continuous process improvement by the workers are the responsibility of the leader. To begin a Lean journey without thinking through this structural element is toying with failure. Don’t do it.

In a true Lean management culture you don't have to have all the answers anymore. Your people do. The answers you provide are the organizational structure, reporting relationships, accountability, pace, recognition and reward and incentive to work in the new order. This approach to work allows you to tap the creativity from the workforce, continuously.

Without a structure though there will be potential chaos with so many anxious to use their newfound empowerment. Its one thing to tell someone they are empowered but quite something else to provide structure to ensure they behave in an empowered manner, respecting the existing order. This empowerment may range from serving as a leader of a defined work team, representing team members of customer-supplier meeting, or serving as a team member who consistently signals defective work and its causes through workplace whiteboards.

Toyota's production management system, the basis of Lean, is structured to thoroughly eliminate waste in pursuit of maximum cost reductions. That structure is defined by leadership and underscores the behavioral expectations that result in Toyota's culture. However, there is no direct translation from manufacturing and the structure and principles successful for Toyota's culture must be adapted from manufacturing to our own healthcare environments. Therefore, initial structural work is required of healthcare leaders in order to obtain success with the Lean management system. 


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