Creating a Lean Culture, by David Mann

Creating a Lean CultureCreating a Lean Culture by David Mann is now in its third edition. The book ranges widely, but at its heart is a central challenge in the use of Lean: how do you move from individual improvement efforts, or work in one area, to joined up use of Lean supported across an organisation?

The traditional way of learning Lean principles is by working with someone with more experience of the method. You walk the workplace with them, and through a process of Socratic questioning, observation, on-the-job learning and feedback, you reach a rich understanding of Lean principles.

You can even see how this would work. A YouTube video has clips of Shigeo Shingo leading pretty much this process. Another video includes interviews with Taiichi Ohno and two Toyota staff, and it’s clear from their description that Ohno worked much the same way, at least at first.

The central challenge is how scaleable this is. Where, exactly, do you find the number of teachers, of sensei, to mentor large numbers of staff simultaneously?

My view on this a few years ago was fairly unyielding. I wanted to teach everyone everything. I had in mind a cascade process rippling down an organisation until you had as close to an entire staff group as you could get comfortable with Lean, and happy to apply the principles in their day to day work. I wanted to get as close as possible to the ideal of everyone having two roles – doing their work, and improving their work.

This is a great theory, and I still feel it’s the state you want to reach, but it has considerable challenges. When you apply Lean prinicples in organisations that are managed on traditional lines, and where managers have grown up in a conventional management system, there’s an important loop to close. The likelihood of standard work decaying as people focus on firefighting is real, and substantial. This also makes if much more difficult to focus on root causes, and therefore to identify and build in further process improvements.

David Mann describes ways of avoiding this through prolific use of case examples. He offers careful development of method linked to these examples, and to his own experience both as an internal Lean implementer, and as an external consultant. Mann’s work has been influential. His work is acknowledged by Virigina Mason, one of the pioneers of the use of Lean in health care, in a recent book.

Mann argues that the main components of a Lean management system are Leader Standard Work, Visual Controls, a daily accountability process, and discipline. One of his important contentions is that executives don’t need to have a full understanding of Lean to maintain and improve the use of Lean in practice – they just need to know what to look for, and then to do the things they are used to doing, in managing a system.

He envisages two interlocking systems. At the tactical level, standard work is supported by the team leader (discussed in the Ohno video above, interestingly). The team leader identifies problems in the process, and makes any allocations of investigation or improvement work. The Team Leader then takes their visual control to a brief meeting held by their supervisor for the teams reporting to them. Again, progress on identification of the cause of interruptions and delays, and work on preventing recurrence, is discussed and agreed. The Supervisor repeats the process with other supervisors at a huddle held by the Value Stream Manager.

The focus on this is on identifying where the process varies from that expected, finding out why and making improvements to reduce of prevent recurrence. It’s Lean as an improvement system.

The role of senior managers or Executives is not to repeat this work, Mann suggests, but rather to ensure that the Lean Management system to support it is in place, and is being appropriately maintained. To do this, they need to know what they need to look for, and the questions they need to ask, but not necessarily how to lead Lean improvements themselves.

Mann’s website includes free pdf resources that can be adapted for use on visits to the workplace by Executives – known as gemba walks.  His case reports illustrate how, in some organisations, this has given Executives new interest and engagement. Rather than being asked to make observations on things they don’t particularly understand, they are being given a precise task – find out how well this workplace is adhering to these specific aspects of Lean standard work. This is something they can do, and feel good about doing. I suspect there is also a Trojan horse element  – if you did this week in and week out, you could not avoid learning something about Lean principles.

The underlying logic is that you can use the senior engagement to maintain the process and, if you maintain the health of your Lean management process, then service improvements and sustained performance will follow. The book provides several examples of the use of these templates in practice, and of how to build the central Lean tenet of respect for staff in to the process. The case examples that feature throughout the book are very useful in getting you closer to Mann’s thinking.

There was scarcely a page in this book that didn’t prompt me to make a note for future reference. This is a high value, high information density book. I can’t envisage anyone with an interest in Lean not obtaining sufficient value from it to pay back its cost.

If you’re not yet sure whether it’s for you, have a look at the other resources listed below. Squaring the circle of maintaining Lean implementations, managing costs and meeting time expectations is a significant challenge, but I have better ideas about how to do some of it after reading this book.


Other resources:

Mark Graban podcast with David Mann

Paper by David Mann (pdf file)

David Mann’s website




4 thoughts on “Creating a Lean Culture, by David Mann

  1. Pingback: Harnessing Improvement Efforts in an Acute Hospital |

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  3. Pingback: Washington State Government Lean Materials |

  4. Pingback: Quality Improvement Success |

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