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Samuel Obara

Sammy Obara: sustaining requires well prepared and conscious leadership

By Samuel Obara, - Last updated: Friday, June 28, 2013 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

It sounds like you already have introduced lean to a great extent and that you were satisfied with what you did (otherwise you wouldn’t be seeking ways to sustain). Your challenge is specifically in the sustainability of what you did in a decentralized organization that you have.

Besides being decentralized, you may want to consider some other factors that typically make sustainability tougher: Size, larger organizations just seem to have a tougher time sustaining lean company wide (of course there are exceptions). Employee turnover, organizations with high turnover and temporary labor seem to have more difficulties sustaining (exceptions here, too). Lack of accountability, lack of gemba walks by leadership (not the industrial-tourism type), lack of metrics (the right ones in the right places), etc., are just some of many other factors playing against a sustainable implementation. I guess the list is much longer, but I think it is important to recognize some factors that must be overcome, dealt with, resolved prior to, or plainly recognized.

I believe that sustaining lean works better if we start it in the Planning phase, way before implementation takes place.
A good implementation is much easier to sustain. For example, before implementing it, look into eliminating SWIS (standardized Work Instruction Sheet) wherever possible. You can do it by replacing them with Pokayoke techniques and by building the procedure into the process. When there is no way to do it wrong, we don’t need to document that step in the process. Sustaining that one step becomes natural and doesn’t require an artificial method to “ensure” compliance. In the case of sustaining through standard documentation, we must remember that people are not natural followers of standards, documents, policies, (and sometimes not even laws…).

Another thing before implementation is that you can anticipate Yokoten principles. From the previous example, that one step that has been Pokayoked, will now be implemented in other places wherever it can be copied. This eliminates a few more documents and brings more steps into a natural sustaining stage.

But provided that you are already progressing with your implementation with the solid foundation, sustaining what you already have may require a different set of skills than the ones you needed to implement it. Definitely many of those skills (and practices, habits, mindsets) are common to both implementer and maintainer, but there are specific ones very particular to the maintainer.

My early years as an intern in Toyota, I had to write hundreds of procedures and standards on the shop floor, a skill that we were taught as “in order to help the consistency of the processes” or “sustainability”, etc. But sustaining didn’t depend solely on those documents.
Senior managers kept all associates accountable to the existing standards. Their motto was “you get what you inspect, not what you expect”.

A skill that became very evident when those managers challenged us was their Socratic approach. That is one of those abilities I found to be more common as hierarchies go up.
Another mindset the maintainers had was to never let us start doing the work until we were fully reliable.
Another key skill my managers had was their deep knowledge of the lean techniques.
On this last one, perhaps the rarest of skills everywhere else. I frequently see traditional managers delegating lean to others without understanding the minimum necessary. How can they ensure compliance (therefore sustainability), if they can’t hold people accountable to a standardized work combination table for example? If they can’t read that, how will they know people are following it? Although I never saw any of my Toyota bosses writing one single SWIS, SWC, SWCT, etc., they knew how to read and audit them on the shop floor, and audit they did, several times a month.

We frequently hear and read that sustaining is the role of everyone in the organization… However, sustaining requires a well prepared and conscious leadership. Nothing else works if we fail in that one step. The impression I got in Toyota was that leaders got more sustaining responsibilities the higher up they were

Good luck and best wishes.
Sammy

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