Organizational Design and the Role of HR in Lean
This originally appeared on the Lean Career Compass blog.
Lean is a human system. And human resources deals with humans, right? So HR should have a pretty active role in lean. In most cases, I see them sitting on the sidelines. This is sad. It’s not that they don’t want to get involved, they don’t know how. There are many levers that HR can pull that can help a lean transformation move forward. Organizational design is one of them.
Most of the organizational design that we observe is trying to solve a poorly designed problem statement. For example, these two teams aren’t working well together, so let’s put them together under one roof. That makes sense on the surface, but because it was done based on symptoms instead of understanding a problem, it solves one symptom while creating a new problem.
If a connection is broken, by putting two groups or two people together you can improve the connection (or more accurately overcome it as this is a workaround). But at the same time you pulled one group further away from another connection, often exposing it’s weakness. So now you have a new problem. This is what I call a waste shell game. Watch the shell…it’s moving, it’s moving…where it stops, nobody knows. This is a bad, ad hoc, and reactive way to use organizational design to improve performance.
Point 1: Define the problem statement or operational objective before beginning to design the organization
Instead, you must first understand how you want the process to work. You must have an ideal or effective process by understanding the activities, connections, and flows. Activities, connections, flows – these are the building blocks of your processes. You then build your organizational design around the most efficient ways to make those connections and flows work.
Point 2: Design your organization around the process that you want
For example, at a hotel, one of the most important operating factors is cleaning rooms according to their schedule and on time. On time allows you to plan room availability around checkins, particularly if you have several different room types. Most leaders wanting to improve the flow of room cleaning would just want to consume more resources by adding more to the cleaning crew.
But after prioritizing the flow around stable and predictable outcomes, and understanding the supporting activities and connections within the work such as stocking carts, the design actually took someone out of the cleaning crew. They were made a team leader, although not with any pay difference. They handled many of the connections, such as supplies to carts, but also provided an important connecting in managing a part of the flow, which is an exception. An exception in the process is a room that will take longer to clean than normally required. Instead of just falling behind schedule, when a team member enters the room they ask themselves if they can clean it in the allowed time. If not, they first contact the team leader who comes and helps them clean the room. This room takes two people instead of one, but this was a better response to the exception than pushing the entire process behind schedule.
Point 3: Often the most effective designs are responsive to changes, defects, and problems
This is an example of designing the organizational structure, and the roles and responsibilities, around an understanding of the process, including the exceptions and problems within the process. This is a fundamental and highly value-added role that HR can play in this stage of the process.
What have been your lessons on organizational design in lean? And how can HR help?