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Our new boss doesn’t 'get' lean; what can I do to convince him?

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Dear Gemba Coach,

We’ve had spectacular lean results with our old boss, but our new boss doesn’t get it. He’s already cut his  Gemba walks from weekly to monthly and doesn’t see the point of kanban. What can I do to convince him?

I honestly don’t know. This has to be one of the most frequent questions in lean and I have to confess I have not found an answer so far. The real problem is that bosses already know everything (that’s how they get to be bosses) so convincing them is not an option. The real problem is showing them something where they can convince themselves.

And, there we get stuck. If we show them the full TPS, they just balk. Understandably as it’s both alien and complex:

If we introduce them to lean piecemeal, by going the “simplified” way, they tend to latch on to one part of the system, figure it out (they’re rarely thick), delegate it to someone to fix operations, move on, and so never get it either.

Let’s try yet another way to skin this particularly resistant cat. What is TPS supposed to teach us?

First, how to satisfy the customer better: this is developing brand capital. The assumption is that in a saturated market we gain market share faster by reducing churn (keeping existing customers happy) than by seeking to “acquire” new customers. The approach here is to try to understand fit-to-customer better, and the learning method is VA/VE: value analysis to fix customer issues in the current contract (and learn about how they use our products or services) and value engineering to improve future contracts (and test customer preferences by proposing new features).

Then there is jidoka (if you read the Asian pictograph  right to left), which is learning how to make our products better: this is developing labor productivity. By focusing on self-detection and not accepting defective work, not creating defecting work, not passing on defective work, but, on the contrary, focusing on every problem as it appears in context, we develop a deeper understanding of both our own work and the equipment used. We also better understand the “process point,” where the tool hits the part.

Just-in-time is all about learning to coordinate departments and functions better to deliver to customers quickly, with the existing capacity while introducing variety: this is developing organizational productivity. By pulling work as needed as opposed to doing the job and pushing the batch to the next step when it’s done, all departments in the full supply chain learn to coordinate better and to level the load and make their equipment more flexible, which radically improves capital utilization (and leads to machine redesign for flexibility). The learning tools here are good ol’ fashioned kanban and SMED – no surprises.

Employee satisfaction is achieved by developing team-level kaizen and standardized work and easing the flow of work both at individual and process level: this is developing human capital. As teams learn to improve their own work environment and to handle their various jobs better, and as they are engaged in establishing their own ways of working in order to achieve their mission, they develop unique knowledge as well as greater engagement. This knowledge, when cumulated over time and place through the intensity of kaizen, is the key to competitive difference as it both makes the operational process more efficient and can be fed into engineering work to design the next generation of products and services at greatly reduced cost (The aim is to reduce existing costs by 30 percent.)

Mutual trust between employees and management is the key to basic stability. It’s achieved through supporting the right team structure and the right atmosphere within teams (Google reached the same conclusions) where people feel confident in their own skills and at ease with each other, their colleagues, and their management: developing social capital. This is achieved by developing shop-floor leadership through constant on-the-job training and teaching team leaders and frontline managers the basics of “labor relations”: how to help employees with individual problems and reinforce team spirit.

The full model would look something like:

 Labor model

I have no idea whether this would be any more convincing, but I fully believe your question is the right one, and we must keep trying until we find the right way to present lean that is attractive to senior managers without being over-simplistic. Try, see, try, see … and hope for the best!

8 Comments | Post a Comment
kevin kobett October 8, 2016

Approach this as any other problem. Find the root cause of the problem. It seems in this case your hiring process sucks. You hired the wrong person and now are stuck trying to make him/her the right person.

It would help if you descibed your hiring process.

Victor Johnson October 9, 2016

What is missing is owneship from the top. The Toyota Production is the Training Within Industry Scheme [TWI] by another name.

The TWI Scheme in organisations begins with top management who are introduced to the three programs consisting of Job Instruction, Job Relations, and Job Methods.

The TWI Scheme is inculcated as a 'management tool', with senoir managers coaching subordinates, and so on. This is where the 'shop floor' walk around is learned and practiced.

The positive outcomes are many but, all managers who have experienced TWI say that is the best prorgam by far.

Jac October 10, 2016

i suggest to get a new job in the meantime... otherwise you will endup forced looking for something 

Vivienne October 10, 2016

I like the  terms you supplied, Michael.  They explain the purpose of the Lean tools.  Their intent and meaning is not understood in the Japanese names until someone explains their use.  This answers in part the 'what's in it for me' questions managers may have.

Jan October 11, 2016

Attempting to convert someone who shows little interest in either change or learning is a risky (and probably futile) business.

Consider yourself lucky that the new guy's behavior is obvious - I recently had an unpleasant experience with a site manager who claimed to support lean but turned out to be all about sweeping problems under the rug and staying clear of anything related to lean unless his own superiors were there.

My advice is to prepare leaving on your own terms while you can. Otherwise, you risk getting kicked out (if you insist too much) or ending up frustrated (for failing to do what you know you should). Just my 50c.

Max Z October 12, 2016

There are actually 3 big baskets I have noticed where one can make a boss' sorting on their Lean Approach

1. How much savings you can bring and when?

2. Lean is great but it works only on papers and documents.

3. Real Lean transformation oriented individuals.

My 2 cents is to make a face to face discussion perhaps even at some informal event by ocassion and try to figure out which group from above does your boss belongs. 

Ones and twos are scary and rather runaway than change them (especially first group may end up in a big frustration). However a good try is to convince them by split this big elefant or resistant cat into smaller pieces and build up a growth curve you probably have seen at many sources - from 5S and Gemba to Leannovation and DFx. 

I hope I brought you some value adds...

BillK October 19, 2016

In Nov. 2015 when asked "Which lean tools can be used to help them [managers] beieve [in lean]" Michael answered " None. Accept it and move on."

I tend to agree and in my experience I have never succeeded in convincing a boss to really adopt lean.

I think there is a strong reason why it is so tough to change a boss' ideas about lean. The boss has been successful doing what he was doing the non-lean way (he got the job didn't he?). It is too risky for him to change to something he doesn't understand and probably won't be good at because it would be new to him.

If you want, you might get the book "Crucial Conversations." I've heard that this book explains how to have difficult conversations like telling the boss he is making a mistake by not suporting the lean program.

In my case, after failing to convince my boss, I instead focused on trying to practice lean in the areas that I control. I strive to create a little island of stability in a broader sea of waste. It isn't easy without any support, but I still have the opportunity to learn and grow.

Michael Ballé October 19, 2016


Brother, I feel your pain. Yes, this is exactly what we do - try to create islands of stability in oceans of waste and nonsensical decisions.

I remember one time being gutted when the new CEO of a hospital had reversed a lot of the good work his COO had done, this great lady said to me: keep in mind all the patients that got better care when we were doing the right thing.

This lady was an incredible nursing manager. She would take the time to introduce herself to patients, and give them her card saying "if you run in any trouble, call me." A remember a little old lady in tears because she had to leave the ward where she had been so well treated.

So, yeah, stuff happens, firetruck it and move on. Let's do good, and if we can, let's do great!

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