Who is really running the business? [Guest Post]
Guest Post: Jauna Werner is a certified Lean and Agile practitioner with experience in the retail, technology, medical and defense industries.Â Besides her work in industry, Jauna enjoys teaching Operations Management at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and introducing the next generation of managers to Lean thinking and methods. View her profile in Linkedin.
Everyone on the Lean journey, whether a novice or an expert, knows that you have to go to Gemba to identify waste, improve flow and find opportunities to increase value for your customers. Most of us have had shocking discoveries as we observe the work and realize what we thought was happening is far from what is actually happening. One of my discoveries during observations in a variety of industries is how often the operational strategy and standards fail to make it to the front-line and, consequently, to the customer. In those cases, it is the decisions made at that moment by the individual front-line employees that determine how the business is being run and whether the customersâ€™ needs and wants are being met.
A manufacturing company has invested in automation, planning groups and operational management but is still struggling with unevenness in their production line. Observation- The workers running the machinery take the daily plan as a â€œguidelineâ€ and run whatever products they feel will most optimize the work in their individual work area. This created large work-in-progress inventory levels between process steps, increased scrap and overall sub-optimization of the production line.
Like that manufacturing company, many organizations struggle with getting their standards and operational plans that â€œlast 10 feetâ€ to the production line or service interaction to ensure the business is providing the best value to their customers. Not understanding that this gap exists leads many senior, middle and even front-line managers to be frustrated by the lack of results from major initiatives. That â€œlast 10 feetâ€ can also be frustrating to the front-line staff since it can prevent their ideas for improvement from flowing back to management to support implementation.
Many hospitals invest in multi-million dollar Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems with standards of care built into checklists, etc. for nursing and other staff to use when treating patients. Often these systems are not located at the bedside so the staff has to deliver care by their own methods and then chart the care later. Observation- A nurse used a sheet of paper folded into sections for notes on each of her patient that could later be used to enter information in the EMR. The checklists and other treatment information that had been painstakingly developed in the EMR were not available for the nurse to use in the room so she had to use an alternate system to take that information with her while treating the patients.
While it is true that front-line decision making does not always mean reduced quality or delays in delivery, the variability introduced when the operational plans and standards are not followed can make determining the root cause of either poor performance or excellent performance very difficult. It also makes it difficult for teams who support production or the service staff, such as engineering, quality, IT and management, to help the front line develop and implement sustainable improvements.
So, the next time you go to Gemba (hopefully, that will be today) and are looking for opportunities to eliminate waste and improve flow, make a point to observe whether your plans, processes and standards are evident in each activity, connection or flow and, just as importantly, observe whether the ideas coming out from employees are flowing out and up and driving sustainable improvements to those same standards, processes and plan. If not, you have a great opportunity to improve how the business is being run and close the gap between what should be happening and what is actually happening.