Planet Lean: The Official online magazine of the Lean Global Network
Five lean practitioners answer the same question 3

Five lean practitioners answer the same question 3

Planet Lean
July 22, 2016

1 QUESTION, 5 ANSWERS – Lean management causes a huge shift in the mind of leaders, one that dramatically changes the way they think of themselves and the way they behave. We asked five leaders to tell us how lean changed them.

"How did lean thinking change your leadership style?"

JOANN FALKENBURG MD, Family Physician, Palo Alto Medical Foundation

Joann Falkenburg pic

Learning to live the discipline to go see, ask why and show respect fundamentally changed my leadership style and experience. It is the best way to understand the current situation and engage front-line teams in tackling challenges together. Front-line observation proves extremely effective in building trust with care teams and in confirming that the standard work developed in a workshop can actually be implemented with real patients. I understood so many things once I started observing patient care and flow and asking patients, staff and physicians two questions: "What are we doing well?" and "What can we improve?" The answers to those questions help set the course for improvement and produced robust feedback for strategic planning.


ERIK STEENBAKKERS, Director of HR Center of Expertise, NS NL

Erik Steenbakkers pic

I would like to share two big changes I (with the rest of the organization) am going through. The first came from realizing there is a huge difference between introducing lean as a method and embracing it as an alternative way of thinking and acting. Describe it as nothing more than a set of rules and you'll see your colleagues say that they already know the method, or that it is the same as agile – as a result, no behaviour will change and the organization will not improve.

The second change I am experiencing – and the hardest to live through – is understanding that lean is all about doing and about improving daily. It's about walking the talk, which means asking questions, investigating, trying out different things, measuring results, and visualizing problems and progress. If we are to become real lean leaders, we must stop writing long reports and asking the smart people in our teams to come with quick solutions to problems, and start to take the time to improve with our people.


HOLLIE JENSEN, Enterprise Lean Consultant at State of Washington

Hollie Jensen pic

Listening. Prior to taking on my role as a leader on a lean journey, I thought I was a decent listener, until I found myself finding answers for everyone. I wondered then, if I am giving you an answer, am I really listening or just processing what you are saying and preparing my "right" answer? When you are a leader helping to guide a team through a lean transformation, it is your primary role to help them to grow and support their discovery through coaching – can you really help someone grow without listening? How will you know what they are thinking? How will you identify learning gaps? How will you be prepared to offer challenging questions, instruction or reflection points? When I say listening, I don't mean hearing. I mean listening, active and engaged in taking in the information your learner is sharing with you in their words, non-verbal cues and their selection of language. Listening is one way to observe your learner's (team's) current situation. You are listening to understand, to support those on your team in their own discovery and to generate your own discovery – most importantly, you are listening to demonstrate for those around you (especially those you are leading) that you care deeply about what they have to say and what they are working on. Listening has helped me build trust and open the door for meaningful and challenging coaching conversations. Listening... so simple, so why wasn't I always doing it?


RICHARD SHERIDAN, CEO and Chief Storyteller, Menlo Innovations

Richard Sheridan pic

Menlo didn't specifically choose to pursue "lean" per se. However, as we learned more and more about the lean movement, we of course discovered that, while the words we use were never the same as those used by the lean community, the alignment of principles was compelling. Openness, transparency, collaboration, teamwork, trust are common elements between the lean community and the joy we pursue at Menlo.

Obviously, all of this required change. Change in practices, change in behaviors, change in relationships. What had to change first, though, was me. I had to ensure I was no longer at the center of the decision-making process. I recall in my earlier life, when I was a VP, I took my then 9-year-old daughter to work on "take your child to work day". At the end of what I assumed was probably a pretty boring day for her (she colored most of the day at my task desk), I asked her what she thought. "Wow dad, you are really important around here." I asked her what she had seen. "I saw that no one here can make a decision without asking you first." She was proud, I was mortified. That moment I realized my management style meant that my entire R&D organization couldn't move any faster than me. I needed to change that. And I did, and I now delight in knowing that I am no longer the bottleneck.


SARI TORKKOLA, Chief Information Officer, Patria

Sari Torkkola pic

One of the most significant changes in my way of thinking as a leader was in my understanding of variation, which has led to end-to-end process metrics becoming the basis of our daily management system at Patria ICT. They ensure everybody looks at their
work from the customer's point of view, end-to-end, instead of assessing the efforts of individual people contributing to the process.

The introduction of Statistical Process Control (SPC) charts has not only given people the ability and focus to determine whether the process is running as it should or not, it also provided us with a way to visualize the otherwise invisible work of experts. Being able to present our improvements as measurable facts (we regularly measure demand, work-in-process, flow and lead-time for each process we are trying to change) has significantly improved the credibility of our IT department and of lean thinking across the organization.


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