Lean Leadership Behaviors – An Example

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Lean Leadership Behaviors – An Example is an article that demonstrates key behaviors of lean leaders.


When organizations first begin their Lean Journey, it’s often done through “events” either as small point Kaizen events or Kaizen events spanning several days. I’m a believer that Lean can begin from many different places, but this approach fundamentally doesn’t lead to the daily cultural changes we wish to see in organizations  in which we work.

Let me illustrate.

Suppose a department sets a goal to have 1 Kaizen event per month. That goal is honorable and is a good start. In actual practice and in all reality, what does that look like though?

kaizen event, business as usual

What we end up with is a culture that relies on “events”, but following the event, it goes back to business as usual until the next event.

What Are We Really Teaching?

In this “event-driven” lean deployment approach, what we are really teaching is actually Business As Usual. Why? Because most days of the month are actually spent in Business as Usual than in the actual practice of lean.

This might be a fine place to start, but is not ultimately what will sustain long-term lean and respect for people behaviors.

So, what’s the countermeasure?

Well, there are three options:

  1. Have more events throughout the month.
  2. Same number of events, but do a better job in sustaining the behavioral changes post-event.
  3. Or, get away from the notion of “event” and instead focus on daily practice of PDCA – which can even be described as many, many daily micro-events.

For the long-term success of lean at any organization, option 3 is the target place to be. The diagram above is a good way to judge how you’re organization is doing in its lean journey.

Manage For Daily Improvement

Option 3 above can be done in several ways. One way that I’ve applied it in supply chain, fulfillment, healthcare, software, and call centers is to have a daily practice that applies the concepts of Visual Management, managing to metrics, and applies PDCA in its daily work.

Step 1

Identify your key metrics across Safety, Quality, Delivery, and Cost. These are flexible, but in most operations, SQDC is a common and easy place to begin.

This image is the SQDC board from an large printing company I was fortunate enough to consult for.

sqdc board manage for daily improvement board example

Step 2

The next important part is to track performance on what is called an Hour By Hour Chart. At Toyota, we called this a Production Control Board, or PCB.

manage for daily improvement example board chart

Step 3

At the heart of a Lean organization is learning. The way we can support that concept in our daily management is by looking at how we performed in the previous 13 weeks.

lean leadershp behaviors, sqdc board

Step 4

Once you’ve identified and are tracking the key performance metrics, then it would be important to identify problems that prevent the team from meeting their performance targets. We track these manually using a simple Tick Sheet. Over time, the Check Sheet will form a Histogram. The goal is to go after the highest bar in that Histogram.

Incidentally, a Pareto Chart is a Histogram, except that it’s sorted from largest frequency to the lowest frequency. In either case, we want to go for the 80/20.

Once we have a nice and big enough problem to go after, it really begs the question of “why?”. This should naturally lead to the rest of PDCA.

lean leadership behaviors practical example

Step 5

Next, after we’ve asked “why”, is to articulate the problem (which was the category for the highest bar in the Pareto). Then, we apply PDCA and arrive at countermeasures. Some will lead to larger Kaizen events, meriting an A3. But most should be done in the daily work – in the course of doing their job.

sqdc board kaizen newspaper

This approach enables daily practice of looking toward target conditions, accountability to metrics, and daily practice of PDCA.

In the next page, you’ll see a video of a Hospital that has applied this approach in their daily work.

This is a hospital that has applied the concept of Manage for Daily Improvement.

Again, this approach is called many different things, but the framework is simple and well known and supports daily Kaizen and prevents slipping back into Business as Usual.


  1. says

    Do you also have events or none at all? I’m wondering if there are types of problems that are less likely to be detected / addressed as part of daily improvement

    • says

      They’re not really “events” – in this approach of deploying Lean, improvement is part of the work. Kaizen becomes plain vanilla – not some special workshop anymore.

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