The definitive test of lean is what you leave behind after you leave the team, department or organisation you are responsible for. Can they continue their problem solving and continuous improvement journeys or will they revert to past behaviours? Business results from lean here and now are great but sustained results on into the future depend on the capabilities you developed while you were in charge.
You can tell very quickly as you talk to the team. Would they want to go back to the way things were before lean? Can they describe the “ah ha” moments when they really began to understand the power of lean? Has lean thinking become the way they do things now? Are they engaged in frequent, ideally daily, PDCA cycles? Do managers use A3s as a matter of course to address bigger problems? You can also tell whether your replacement “gets it” or is leading in a different direction.
But problem solving capabilities also need a structure to support them. Having a heroic leader who can define the vision and communicate the potential of lean is a great start. But so often they need to be followed by a leader who builds the management system that sustains lean over time. Two recent books perfectly illustrate this progression. John Toussaint the pioneering CEO of the Thedacare Hospital system in the USA laid out his vision in On the Mend: Revolutionizing Healthcare to Save Lives and Transform the Industry. When he went off to do missionary work with the Healthcare Value Network he was followed as CEO by Kim Barnas. Her excellent book Beyond Heroes: A Lean Management System for Healthcare should be studied by management teams well beyond healthcare.
With a clear vision, lots of PDCA at the Gemba and a management system in place what other allies will you need to bring on board to secure the future of lean in your organisation? We think of every level of management mentoring and coaching their subordinates, now is the time to involve other stakeholders like suppliers, investors and Board members. What experiments do you need to initiate to develop their understanding of lean? What questions should you ask them to provoke them to discover what lean can do for their organisations? Actively including them in your lean journey is the key to its survival after you leave.