Configuring Resources to Your Lean Transformation [Guest Post]
Guest Post:Â Nathan Holt is a highly accomplished executive and proactive continuous improvement leader with experience in driving critical operations and enterprise improvement programs in diverse industries. He currently work as Â Head of Continuous Improvement and Process Leadership, Americas at Shell Oil Company.
One thing I believe we can all agree on is that it is essential to have dedicated resources on supporting your lean transformational change. And, that such resources should consist of highly respected, capable people or future leaders and the role should be used as a development position. Without this support, the rest of the organization is too easily distracted by the daily business pressures, thus pushing aside the long-term strategic transformation.
The configuration of these resources into the organization can be tricky and certainly impacts the pace of the journey. If the Lean resources only consist of a single core or central team, historically referred to as the Kaizen Promotion Office (KPO), a key advantage is easier management of the team and lean activity. However, there are a number of disadvantages. For example, Lean could be viewed by those in the business as a corporate program (here today and gone tomorrow) or even worse, that involvement in Lean, including leadership of Lean activity, only occurs through the core team resource. Another disadvantage is that core team resources have little understanding of the day-to-day business areas and lack influence in the organization in which they are supporting.
Another common arrangement is when Lean surfaces from within a random area of the business. Usually, this occurs when you have one or two mid to senior level executives who have prior Lean experience and are bringing it to an organization that has little to no Lean experience. The advantage here is that the Lean activity is naturally occurring where the management wants to engage and has experience with it. The disadvantage for the broader organization, is that learning across the company is slower as well as the overall culture shift. If the mold is not expanded beyond this small area of the business, you end up with an island of excellence in a sea of waste where improvements become limited to isolated processes as opposed to value streams.
If the management support is there, I would suggest a blend, sort of a hybrid approach, consisting of core corporate-level team resources and in-business resources. The core team would include a few very seasoned core Lean resources who have capability for full systems thinking and coaching and who can support larger transformation across functions and businesses. This small core, centralized team should also consist of resources that can help promote activity and sharing of learning, as well as maintain a common set of learning materials and serve as a central vehicle for activities and communications. The role of this central team is also to work with senior leaders at the highest level to reach consensus of where to invest resources and determine overall support needs.
In addition to the smaller core team, there is a need for a larger network of Lean resources directly in the business operations and functions. These resources can either be recruited into the organization or developed from within â€“ a decision determined by the state of your business and conversations with the business leaders and HR. The benefit of such embedded resources is that they report into the business, work with local resources, speak the same language, work in the same time zone and overall, share a stake in the success of the business area in which they work. Ideally, these resources are fully committed to building the lean system, sustaining it and enhancing it as the organization matures. Additionally, new expertise needs to be deployed to the organization, and your larger network of facilitators should be able to participate in these learning opportunities so that knowledge of the total business system can be combined in one person for fuller understanding, interpretation, application and knowledge transfer to others.
The larger network ideally consists of varying levels of capability to support all areas and levels of the business and serves as a career path for development into leadership positions as well. This rotation of resources supports the business needs and serves as a vehicle to develop future leaders. The size for the network overtime should be expected to grow to around 2 to 3% of your overall headcount in the business. However, you will likely start with far fewer than 1% and as you mature in your Lean transformation you will add resources to the team to invest in accelerated growth. Lean will free up people and you will have major fluctuations in your workload. Use this to your advantage by freeing up the best people to become your facilitators and “rapid problem solvers”. By using your best people in this role, you will make the best progress and your best people are most flexible to go do whatever jobs need to be done when workload spikes, increasing your ability to respond to your customers’ changing needs. Further, this develops the team they leave behind that must improve with the resources they have â€“ building in sense of urgency into their daily work.