Lean leadership – is a manager’s time value adding?

I previously worked as a middle manager at a company in medical device industry. As a part of our Lean development, we introduced 5S at all of the offices in the department and were able to maintain that way of working for several years.

One day I thought that the level of commitment started falling. Everything got a little bit messier, and truth be told – even in my office. Our up until now well working system was losing its efficiency. What had happened?

It was not hard to figure out that the problem was in the lack of follow-up. Exactly how was not entirely obvious. In 5S, the follow-up is an important part of the concept. The last 5S step is about making sure the check-ups are working. This is smart, if we do not follow up we have not implemented 5S.

At my workplace, we had laid out the work so that every Friday we put everything away and made notes in a checklist that ensured that we had done everything according to the standards. Once a month the group leaders had a revision and once every quarter year I performed a follow-up together with the group leaders to get an overall view.

The problem was with the quarter year follow up. I had in the simplest way scheduled it as a standing reservation in the Outlook system. When I examined it, I discovered that the reservation had disappeared as a result of a system update. We had not done the follow up in almost six months. Since we all had a lot on our minds and we no longer had those meetings, the group leaders subconsciously started thinking:

“Oskar probably does not care so much about 5S anymore since it was such a long time since we last talked about it.”

In turn, the group leaders started to put less energy into their monthly follow-ups and the routines failed to work.

This was a lesson for me. My single follow-up hour once every three months impacted the level of work for the whole department – including the order on my desk! This hour was so clearly creating value in my leadership and should not be forgotten.

What if every hour I spent as manager could contribute that much!

Reflecting over what is creating value and then trying to devote more work hours on that, is my definition of Lean leadership. As a manager, you easily get into a situation where the day is overflowing with meetings and unexpected events. In the end, we need to take control over our time and schedule what is most important first.

What is creating value for a manager? The answer depends on where you work. For a manager in production, it could be for example:

  • Being on the shop floor, see and try to understand the reality
  • Leading and supporting problem-solving based on facts
  • Following up standards and improvements

How many hours of a regular week of working are you spending on these activities? How many hours are reasonable? The first step is to measure and create a goal!

After that, we need to schedule our work days and weeks in a better way. An example could be to include daily rounds in the establishment. It could look like this:

We add the rounds to our calendar, and it surpasses everything except for a real emergency

We standardize the rounds so that we do not have to waste energy on decisions on how to do them

We establish visualizing boards to determine if anything is deviating from the standards

We decide how to handle deviations so that we can give support instead of killing commitment with micro management

In a similar way, we then try to improve our daily work. Maybe we dedicate a moment every Friday to schedule next week so that everything important will get done. We continue to measure the time we spend on creating value and reflect upon how to increase it.

Lean leadership is for me about creating good habits as a manager. When we do the things we know are good every day, we will become better managers. Leadership courses are good and all, but if we do not change our everyday behavior it will not do much.

So how did 5S in the department turn out? When I realized that it was me who was the main cause of our problems, I could do something about it and start up the quarter year follow ups again. As luck would have it, we were not that out of the schedule. The system started running again and in a few weeks everything was back to what we thought was the right standard.

By Oskar Olofsson


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