Lean Management

Lean Management

“The only way to become and stay lean is to produce lean managers”

~James P. Womack

In order for a lean implementation to be successful, it will need to blend operations with lean management and cultural change management.  The operations side will deal with implementing changes to the process such as 5S, standard work, pull etc.  The role of lean management then, is to measure the performance of these operational improvements to ensure they are having the desired impact and to course correct when they are not.  This is done by following the Plan-Do-Check-Act lean process.

One of the fundamental lean principles is for management to consider all of the data, but then to act decisively and implement rapidly once consensus is achieved.

What are the benefits of a lean management system?

From a personnel perspective, the supervisor is responsible for ensuring the team work safely and that any hazards get removed quickly and safely.  The supervisor is also responsible for co-ordinating the daily shopfloor meetings.  This is an opportunity for the team to review their performance, discuss any deviance from standards and to suggest improvement ideas.  Finally, a lean management system will consider the development and training needs of the team using some of the methods from Training Within Industry (TWI).

In terms of quality, the lean management system empowers the production team to stop and fix their process.  This starts with an interim containment, designed to prevent the situation worsening.  A permanent countermeasure will then be developed to ensure that the root cause has been identified and that the problem does not occur again.  A large part of management’s role in a lean system is to drive standard work, so that the process is repeated with consistent results time after time.  This helps identify any abnormal conditions for problem resolution.  Finally, the team strive to continuously improve the process to ensure that defects are reduced or eliminated completely by poka yoke (error proofing).

Delivery is supported in a lean management system by studying the process cycle times and flow interrupters.  The supervisor should conduct a detailed analysis each month to identify what waste still exists and then work with the team to remove them.  An example of a flow interrupter could be a machine breakdown or a part shortage.  By fixing these issues, the lead time for the product to be created can be reduced, getting the product to the customer quicker.

In order to engage the workforce to produce high quality products, first time, every time and deliver them quickly to the customer, the company will have to remove significant waste.  Remember waste is any activity that the customer is not willing to pay for that consumes resource i.e. that has a cost.  Eliminate the waste and you eliminate the cost!

Roles in a Lean Management Structure

Operations Manager:

The operations manager will be responsible for setting the strategic direction for a lean initiative and will have less direct contact with the shopfloor.  That said, it is particularly effective for both the manager and the workforce if they come together to perform at least a monthly audit.

Area Manager:

Checks that the supervisors are fulfilling their standard roles & responsibilities.  The area manager also performs a daily audit to check that the lean process is being followed and to identify opportunities for improvement.


The supervisor is the first level of management for the shopfloor.  Supervising one to five teams, they ensure that the team leaders have completed their standard work audits.  They also perform an audit each day as well as driving 5s discipline amongst the team.

Team Leader:

The role of the team leader is to support the team members in carrying out their operations.  A team leader will be responsible for checking the operator’s adherence to standard work.  They respond to andon calls to help fix any issues before the line stops.  They normally work at a ratio of five operators per team leader, and also offer temporary cover for absent team members.  This requires that the team leader knows all of the operations in that particular area.

Team Member:

Team members or operators are the people who carry out the day-to-day operations of assembly, machining or painting.  They are responsible for following the standard work and suggesting improvements.  They also perform 5S and preventative maintenance checks on their equipment to ensure it is clean, safe and reliable.

As you can see, in a lean management system, there are multiple layers of overlapping audits performed.  Each level of management checks that the next level down are performing their roles and helps support them in the event of a problem.  The main purpose of this is to support the team members who are adding value for the customer.

Further information

For an excellent discussion on Lean management systems, check out Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions by David Mann.  It covers how lean management is the missing link in many lean implementations.  It also covers the principal elements such as leader standard work, visual controls, the daily accountability process and leadership discipline.

Further chapters explore nine behaviours to adopt to become a good lean manager.  These include: passion for lean, project management orientation and effective relations with support groups.  Also covered are chapters on managing people, problem solving, sustaining what you implement and Sensei and Gemba walks.

All in all, this is the best book I have read in terms of covering the management aspect of the wider lean field