Written by Joe Booth


Companies have been seduced by the Lean revolution, but have found it very difficult to sustain the Lean concept. Most have had at least one attempt at implementing Lean.

This involves bringing in experts & reorganising the workplace into cells. After raising awareness across the site, training starts with 5S & the rest of the Lean toolbox is rolled out often including; SMED, Kaizen, Small Group Activities, goal alignment, level scheduling etc.

The outcome is frequently very positive. When set up reduction is in focus & all elements of the changeover have been analysed it’s relatively easy to find “waste” in all its forms. The next step is to plan for the elimination of the relevant waste & finally implement the plan. The outcome can be staggering reducing changeover time from hours to minutes.

So far the programme has been a huge success. The above parody can be repeated for any of the Lean tools. After 5S the workplace looks tidy, it has had a lick of paint, equipment has been cleaned & shadow boards with relevant tooling pepper the shop floor. Even “Lean in the office” has shown fantastic benefits early in the programme. So what’s the problem?

When top management move onto to their next project & the company slips back into business as usual something dreadful happens. The benefits & new ways of working slip back to their old ways & inefficiencies. Why? It’s the power of the old culture grinding away at changes to return the company to its old status quo. So if we really want to create a truly Lean culture we need to tackle the culture change problem head on.

David Mann wrote a book on this subject entitled “Creating a Lean Culture” & he had a big advantage over many. He was not a black belt, operations manager or a business executive. He approached Lean from a psychological angle. He was an industrial psychologist. In the first chapter of his book he finds something staggering. He found that Lean processes need Lean management. Without it the Lean benefits will always be whittled away. In Chapter 2 he developed a model for Lean Management which he calls the Lean Management System (LMS).

The Lean Management System (LMS) sustains the gains from implementing Lean Production. A robust Lean culture grows from the Lean Management System, which describes a way of working for Lean Managers & must replace the old management approach. There are four elements to the LMS namely; Visual Controls, Standard Accountability Process, Leader Standard Work & Discipline. David Mann uses the analogy of a motor car which needs four main elements to work namely, the engine, transmission, fuel & frame. Without any of these elements the car will not work. The same is true for the LMS, without any of the four elements mentioned above it will not work.

Culture is the sum of people’s habits in doing their work. Changing culture should not be targeted per se, instead target the LMS & the culture change will follow. 20% of a Lean transformation is covered by physical changes & the other 80% is more difficult because it involves;

  • the information you need to rely on
  • deeply ingrained work habits
  • day to day, hour to hour routines
  • the way problems are analysed


Most of the LMS journey is personal & internal. It requires extensive discipline for managers / supervisors as well as the front line worker. Without the internal transformation we rely on our old tricks for fooling the system. The paradox is that most Lean implementations fail because Lean is too easy. It is easy to do the practical stuff, but very difficult to change behaviours & habits. We must manage in a completely new direction, away from habitually focusing on results to a subtle process focus.


We will examine each of the elements in turn & then ask ourselves if this exercise can be accelerated. To start we must understand the Virtuous Circle of Continuous Improvement using LMS.


  1. The visual controls represent the focus on process. These visuals must capture, process misses, defects, delays, failure & abnormalities.
  2. The data must be brought to a daily accountability meeting. This often calls for root causes, temporary fixes & tasks that are fully accountable.
  3. Follow-ups on actions must be added to Leader Standard Work (LSW). This validates that the fix has worked.
  4. Sustainability comes from vigorously following steps 1, 2 & 3. This starts the virtuous circle of continuous improvement.
  5. Lean management must have a closed loop focus on process that gradually becomes habitual.


Difference between Lean V Batch & Queue

Lean is simple & inexpensive

  • Value stream
  • Standard work
  • Flow & pull
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Minimum automation
  • Needs minimum IT support


Traditional Batch & Queue is focused on results

  • Schedule adherence
  • Numbers of defects
  • Material price target

Traditional performance reviews require many meetings. Often the data is suspect & a cause for concern & the meetings look backwards in time. To achieve the targets a culture of “Do whatever it takes?” becomes endemic & experienced managers know how to get around problems.


The Lean approach differs sharply. If you want a process to produce the results you must pay attention to it. You must see the process working with your own eyes. Team Leaders should spend their time; training workers, maintaining the pace & monitoring or improving standard work. Looking at what happened weeks ago is too late. In Lean someone must always be available now.

Principle Elements of a Lean Management System

  1. Leader Standard Work – daily checklist for leaders
  2. Visual Controls – set of visual checking charts
  3. Daily accountability process – short frequent huddles
  4. Leadership discipline

On the surface this sounds easy except for one thing – tremendous discipline is essential. Establishing new habits requires extinguishing the old. Learning new habits requires constant re-enforcement by everyone in the chain of command. Experience shows that breaking old habits is easier to avoid than to follow.


Where’s the best place to start?

Start with visual controls as these are used to identify “waste” ie the problems, then use the daily accountability huddles to fix problems or establish root causes. Ensure discipline with the new system is worked vigorously then use Leader Standard Work to sustain the gains. The aim of Visual Controls is to focus on the process & make it easy to compare actual with target. Gaps are where improvements will be needed. Leaders must understand why performance is being tracked & actions are needed to turn into improvements.

The main aim of the Daily Accountability Process is to expose then solve problems quickly. It often appears that it is simply a follow up on tasks made to yesterday’s problems, but more significantly it reinforces the LMS focus on process & sustains improvement.

In conventional production the aim is to meet the schedule. There is very little follow up. In Lean, the aim is to maintain & improve the process. To do this you must understand the causes of problems. Lean focuses on the process, stabilizes it, standardizes & improves it.

There are 3 tiers of daily huddles. The first is the start of shift huddle, where today’s issues are outlined. The second is the supervisor meeting with team leaders. This huddle covers two aspects, running the business & improving the business. Team leaders bring their tracking charts from the day before to outline actions to overcome problems. The next task is “improving the business” using a visual task assignment board. The latter is a matrix of days/month by member. The manager assigns tasks to team leaders. The assignment board tasks are monitored tightly. The third tier is for supervisors to meet their senior manager. The typical agenda reviews yesterday’s performance measures & overdue items. The focus answers “Are we getting things done to improve our processes?” Note that the 3 tiers of daily meetings occur every day without fail. They last between 5-15 minutes each & they keep the pressure on managing improvements.

The third element of LMS is Leader Standard Work & it has proven to be the most difficult to implement. I have some history with trying to implement Leader Standard Work with two clients in 2013 & I failed. As a result I have used a different approach. Firstly we do not call it Leader Standard Work as it conjures up the wrong images. Instead we call it Lean Time Management.

Time management is very important in business. People who do not manage their time well are inefficient & often fail to complete all their daily tasks. This affects their performance & ability to manage.


During the 1980s & 90s Franklin & Covey ran “Time Management workshops” for managers all over the world. It is often remember as the “Filofax” era because each delegate was given a Filofax & shown how to use it to improve their time management.

At the heart of this training you were told to spend 10 minutes each day, normally first thing in the morning, to plan your day carefully. With the page of your diary open at that day you could see entries like, 9-10.30 meeting, 11-12.00 interview, 13.30-14.00 Conference call. These entries often entered days/weeks beforehand form the foundation of the working day. At this early morning daily planning session you should list every task needed to get you through your day. They can include personal items like “buy milk on the way home” or “phone mother”. There can be over 10 or more of these items (often picked up from post-it notes). These are the ones that get forgotten or neglected.

The next task is to prioritize the tasks into, urgent, medium & low priority. Finally you decide how best to integrate the tasks into your day.


The Lean culture has a profound effect on Time Management. Typical daily entries for a Lean Leader, as well as those shown above might include;

  • attend 8am departmental huddle
  • attend 8.30am process huddle
  • attend 9.15 project huddle
  • attend 9.30 escalation huddle
  • conduct gemba walk 9.45
  • conduct 1:1 with subordinate 15.30
  • attend final escalation huddle 10.30

How can someone who is very busy with their normal routine find time for the array of short, but frequent huddles & reviews that Lean demands. Experience has shown that unless you improve your time management Lean will not be successful in your area.

Having failed to implement Leader Standard Work at Carl Zeiss, Cambridge, in 2013 we tried again in 2016 using the Lean Leader Approach. We asked the top 30 managers & key staff to try the new approach for one month & were amazed at the outcome, see below.

Joe Booth Graphic


So it is possible to introduce Leader Standard Work & gain results quickly, but there is one critical element to the Lean Management System & that is discipline.

In Lean discipline is essential because Lean works with very high levels of detail. There are Visual Control boards all over the company & people are meeting for many huddles daily. At Carl Zeiss an exercise was conducted to count the number of Visual Control Boards at one time. They reached 57 & were not even 80% complete. Each board has an owner & attendees. The rule, if you cannot attend, is to send a replacement person who can make a decision on your behalf. Superimposed on this daily process is longer cycle projects that must be reviewed twice or once weekly.

Managing such a huge array of improvements requires very high levels of discipline throughout the company. The best technique for implementing discipline is “zero tolerance”.

US Chief of Police for Boston, New York & Los Angeles, Bill Bratton worked out a way to turn lawless parts of the city into peaceful safe places for people to live, work in and travel through. He called his technique zero tolerance.

The way a part of town deteriorates into lawlessness starts with a broken window. No one is caught for the event. Then people dump their rubbish (fly tipping) and no one is held responsible. Soon the local drug addicts take over and leave hypodermic needles around. Then it becomes a no go area for most law abiding people. Bill Bratton instructed his police to reverse the process. As soon as a crime, however small, was committed the police found the culprits and charged them. They maintained this discipline of zero tolerance until the bad guys move on and the area became safe again.

This story is a perfect metaphor for changing culture. The old sloppy culture can only change when the Lean Leaders start a zero tolerance campaign. This means tightening up on start and finish times and other aspects of work. It involves making sure teams work to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), are using the correct tools for the job, etc. If the procedures are wrong then the Lean Leader needs to facilitate changing them. The impact, if it can be maintained, is to accelerate the culture change. The Lean Leader becomes the policeman enforcing the law.

So can culture change be accelerated? Many experts say no, but with top management commitment, a willingness to succeed, having the right people & finally the right development programme, culture change can certainly be speeded up. What is the “right development programme” for this subject?

Professor Peter Wickens formerly of Nissan MUK recognized that in most western manufacturing companies the role of the Supervisor was poor compared to their equivalents in Nissan, Toyota etc. He developed a programme for selected supervisors to make the transition. He called the programme “Supervision for Super Teams”. The programme is unique for the following reasons;

  • It combines Lean & Management theory
  • Training is conducted on-site
  • Each Supervisor is given coursework to ensure they fully understand the subjects.
  • The coursework is checked carefully
  • Each successful candidate receives a certificate from an accredited body

Access2growth has trained many supervisors using Peter’s approach & materials. Training covers 6 modules over a 12 month period & the modules are;

  1. Mini-business manager
  2. Team Leader
  3. Team coach
  4. People Manager
  5. Workplace Relations Builder
  6. Effective communicator

For each module the student is trained & given a workbook. During the following 2 or 3 months the student is expected to complete a number of learning applications (mini projects).

We discovered that the approach really works, but why? Because, personal development comes from four parts;

  1. Tailored education
  2. Applying the learning in real world
  3. Sharing the learning with others
  4. Frequent coaching 1:1 with trainer or line manager


So how do you accelerate culture change? By driving change using the best supervisors. Although the Supervision programme described above formed the foundation of the change programme, it had to be beefed up. The new programme was called the “Lean Leader Programme”. Course materials were enhanced & most importantly a lot more coaching was introduced from experts & line managers.

So what’s the outcome? So far we are running 4 programmes with our clients & although it’s early days the results have been outstanding.