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.