Friday, January 29, 2010

The Lean Organization

Some companies wait too long to make changes to their organizational structure. Changes should be considered fairly early in any lean transformation. As processes are eliminated, improved and combined, the ownership and responsibilities change. The people responsible for supporting the new processes and ensuring follow up and ongoing improvement are critical to the success of the transformation . Effective support comes from 1) organizational and 2) geographical changes.

Organizational changes:

People on the front lines of the any new process improvement need the authority to make things happen. If you have "Team Leaders" with no direct supervisory authority, they will struggle to be effective. They are armed with only the ability to influence others and report to a higher authority. The "Team Leader" position, invented years ago to keep payrolls low while trying to get the most out of people, is one of the worst ideas in modern management.

During a transformation, your first line of defense against backsliding and poor results, is the Supervisor. (call this person whatever you like, as long as they have the first level of authority in your company. They hire, fire and give performance reviews and raises) If you have inexperienced or weak Supervisors, your changes won't stick effectively. Weak Supervisors can be effective at running a "status quo" operation; but, throw some significant change their way, with all of the challenges and headaches associated with them, and they often crumple like a thin tortilla chip in chunky salsa.

The Support Triangle: The other organizational change involves the direct support of the value added activities. We call this support, the Support Triangle. In a manufacturing operation, there are 3 people that have the primary responsibility to ensure the success of the company's value added activities, which have the biggest immediate impact on the customer. They are the 3 people responsible for:

1) People - the right amount, with the right skills and motivation.

2) Process - equipment, tools, layout, problem solving, etc.

3) Material - the right stuff, in the right amount, at the right time.

Geographical changes

The support triangle team needs to work closely with each other, and be accessible, most of the day. Therefore, they need to be located next to one another, with no barriers to communication, at gemba (the real place where the real thing is happening). We call these work spaces gembicles (gemba + cubicle). The gembicle allows for:

1) more frequent communication

2) more effective communication

3) building teamwork and better relationships

4) a single focal point for the rest of the company

5) a location for visual management/metrics boards, etc.

Although organizational changes and the idea of the gembicle make some people uncomfortable, they are just 2 more changes we must consider in the quest to make continuous improvement really stick.

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