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Managing By Not Wandering Around

by Chet Marchwinski
February 21, 2014

Managing By Not Wandering Around

by Chet Marchwinski
February 21, 2014 | Comments (0)

Companies don’t last for 100-plus years unless they do a lot of things right.  But Ingersoll Rand, the 143-year-old home of such iconic brands as Club Car, Thermo King, and Trane, thought it could do even better when it launched a lean transformation about four years ago. As part of that effort, it put a big emphasis on developing people, including senior leaders.

To learn more before the company’s presentation at the March 2014 Lean Transformation Summit, I called Dan McDonnell, vice president of operational excellence. He described a program for developing people’s lean capabilities that is moving ahead on several fronts.

Developing Capabilities

Like their counterparts at other companies, leaders at Ingersoll Rand from senior management to supervisor tended to spend most of their time in offices and conference rooms or on computers or phones. “It’s how we tend to do work today,” said McDonnell. “It’s how we’re taught as managers.” 

But as the transformation evolved, the company encouraged leaders, especially senior leaders, to spend more time on the gemba. “We believe one of the best ways to develop leaders is to have them spend time where the work, improvements, and problems are occurring,” said McDonnell, who estimated that the time executives spend at the gemba has risen “significantly” in the past three years.

When they are on the shop floor, executives aren’t spending their time slapping backs and making social visits. “They’re not wandering around,” McDonnell explained. “We’ve created routines we teach them to do.” These leader standard work routines are set procedures of where to go, what to observe, what questions to ask. This daily exercise is called a Managing for Daily Improvement walk, or MDI.

Leaders new to the process shadow experienced leaders on a couple MDI walks to watch and learn.  “We believe getting leaders out to the gemba is a great way for them to develop their lean capabilities,” said McDonnell. 

Bottom Line Impact

In each of the company’s strategic business units, cross-functional teams of managers, value-stream coaches, operational excellence employees, and other business staff members attend lean management “immersion” programs for three to six months. Immersion programs include a mix of reading, classroom work, and on-the-job activities such as value-stream analysis that build lean behaviors as well as skills with lean resources. 

Two training modules for hourly associates teach the basic concepts of lean and problem solving, respectively. But by far, the most widespread training for associates and front-line leadership is participating in five-day kaizen events.

The combined effects of these programs are “really impacting the bottom line of our company,” McDonnell noted. Starting nearly five years ago, Ingersoll Rand began measuring itself against 17 peers and competitors in 11 different business metrics.  As of the third quarter last year, the company had advanced at least one quartile in every one of the 11 metrics and many measures had improved by two quartiles.

“We’re still very early in our journey,” said McDonnell. “But we’re following a transformation model that lets us learn through ideation and experimentation what works and what doesn’t. That may sound cliché, but I guarantee you that our journey has been constantly improving and changing as a result of trial and error.”

Hear first-hand how Ingersoll Rand and other companies are developing the lean capabilities of people at the 2014 Lean Transformation Summit. Click to learn more about the agenda.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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