The Lean Champion: Window-Dressing or Agent of Change?

Question seen in another blog:

I work as a deployment champion in a manufacturing company, but I don’t have the support of my managers because they don´t believe in the lean methodology. Which lean tools can be used to help them believe?

Image de Zacharie Gaudrillot-Roy

Image de Zacharie Gaudrillot-Roy

I have to assume you are not self-appointed. If you are “deployment champion” for Lean in a manufacturing company, it is because someone in  gave you the job, presumably because he or she believed in Lean and in you at the right person to champion it. But don’t presume it, find out what the motivation is. If it is that the company must be “Lean-certified” in order to continue doing business with its biggest customer, chances are that the whole effort is window-dressing, and your own job in particular. If this is the case, you need to decide whether you want to play along.

On the other hand, if the person who gave you the job is the CEO, the company must improve its performance to survive, and the CEO is convinced that going Lean is the only feasible way to do it, then it is a real job and you have the backing of the one manager who matters most.

“Lean Champion,” however, is not a line management job, and you don’t have a department in which you can introduce Lean practices. You have to work through line managers who don’t report to you and who may be skeptical as a result of the company having launched a new initiative every 6 months for the past 30 years. Words will not convince them, but all you need to get started is one enthusiastic first-line manager with a hierarchy that is willing to let him try. With the backing of the CEO, this first-line manager and the operators in his group are all you need to start pilot projects whose success will then win over the fence sitters and even some of the naysayers. This is how a successful deployment begins.

I don’t presume to know whether you are able to identify such projects on your own. If you have done it before, you may decide you need no outside help, but Lean Champions are often chosen more for their management skills than for subject-matter expertise. They know how to plan, run, and control meetings, give crisp and clear presentations, and tactfully credit all team members for achievements, but they may be less able to tell which sections of the manufacturing process offer the best opportunities in the current management environment and technical skills of the work force. If this is your case, you may bring in outside help for this purpose.


2 comments on “The Lean Champion: Window-Dressing or Agent of Change?

  1. Being named a “Lean Champion” puts the person under pressure to present quick measurable results. However we all know how sustainable individuals and groups keep on running the processes as in the past – so measurable results may take a while.

    Working with the line workers, and stuff as directly as possible may lead to acceptance by managers, and other departments who get notice of how well things become working in one area.

    In the end it all depends on what Michel already pointed out: in which context is the “Lean Champion” acting, and the forces that support him/her or not. Being aware of the “larger picture” of the organization, and its development is also worthwhile, even if not obvious at first sight.

  2. I completely agree Michel. The Lean Champion needs to use influence and persuasion and can leverage the expectations of the one who appointed him and made the commitment to become Lean. There will always be resistors, so rather than trying to convince everyone he should target one of the managers that he can win over and gain a success story. Replicating that success over and over will then get others on board. There is a short video on Ted Talks titled “How to start a movement” that I think is very good to inspire one who wants to be a true Champion.

    I also agree that he may need to bring in someone with the necessary experience and knowledge who can help with the transformation. That may be very difficult if there is a lack of support from the top. Either way though, he should tap in to every opportunity to learn about the principles and application of Lean so he can be a true champion with the passion that will cause others to follow. There are so many resources now – books, blogs, training seminars, conferences, podcasts, etc. that can provide a better understanding of Lean. The Lean Champion must also become the subject matter expert in the eyes of those in the organization.

    The Lean Champion role is not an easy assignment. It will require not only persuasion and influence but a high degree of persistence and a “never give up” resolve as well. This must become a personal mission that can turn frustration into passion to drive the movement forward. There will be intense discussions with key leaders and the Champion has to be able to stand their ground with a level of passion that convinces everyone that this is not just another flavor of the month initiative.

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