Making time for improvement is a choice. The single most important thing a CEO can do is set an example by making time in their diaries. The successful lean pioneers I have known all spend a day a week out in the organisation and talking to customers. This sounds hard to do but if you think about it the place where the most expensive discretionary time exists in any organisation is near the top. How the top behaves shapes the priorities for everyone else.
Just ask yourself how many Executive level projects your organisation is pursuing, typically between 50 and 100, although one organisation had over 500! Just think of all the time spent creating the Powerpoint slide decks to justify each project, to plan it and endless meetings to review progress. A lean organisation with a good Hoshin process will have considered the needs of their value streams, the needs of their customers and investors and boiled down the vital few projects to less than ten. This immediately frees up a lot of time to work on things that will actually make a difference and close vital performance gaps.
Next ask how much time your executive team spends reviewing the performance of the organisation, again how many targets are reviewed at the top every month, 300-500 is not untypical. Again how much management time is spent compiling all this information and reviewing it in more endless meetings. Think also how much time is spent firefighting and dealing with day to day chaos at the front line, look in your email box! In a lean organisation where progress and plan versus actual at the front line is fully visible the best way to review progress is by going to the Gemba, understand what they need from you to unblock their work and get your guidance on the right problems to focus on. A few minutes at the Gemba may seem onerous but you actually learn what is going on in real time and the experience is that it saves time by eliminating lots of fire-fighting and emails.
Then ask how much time you spend sitting in project review meetings, even the critical projects that will move the organisation forward. Managing projects in a lean way breaks down the work into small increments of time and progress against plan is reviewed daily and weekly by the team in a visual Obeya room. Meetings shrink from several hours to several minutes to check and act only on deviations from the plan. Progress is also faster because problems and identified as they happen and management is on hand to help the team resolve them quickly.
This is just the start. But it highlights the need for top management to review how they are spending their time and which those things actually creates value for the organisation, in other words leads to significant changes in the way the organisation creates and delivers value for its customers. I am always struck visiting corporate headquarters how many bright propel are wasting their time using Powerpoint to fight functional turf wars. A clear alignment on the vital few, direct observation of progress at the front line and lean project management is the way to release time for improvement and steal a march on your competitors.