The Simplest “Lean Audit”

I’m sorting through some old files, and just tossed a 20 or so page “lean audit” from some consultancy into the recycle bin. Like most of them, it tries to gauge the maturity of the organization by the depth and breadth of their implementation of a packet of “lean best practices” – the tools.

What I am interested in, though, is gauging maturity of the thinking and interactions, the culture.

If I ask a typical supervisor what he or she is working on right now for process improvement, what kind of answer will I get?

Does that supervisor’s boss give me the same answer? Are they coordinating and talking?

Ultimately, it comes down to the shop floor’s perception and answers to questions like:

“What are you trying to achieve?”

“Where are you right now?”

(If these look like the generic coaching questions that Mike Rother talks about in the video clip a couple of posts down, you’re right.)

The context of the answers to those questions tells me a great deal. Is it daily survival / firefighting? Or is there something they are striving for to make things better?

Even if the supervisor is engaged in daily firefighting, there is still some kind of target (usually making the production numbers); some kind of current condition (which may be clear, or may be just a judgment).

So I am curious now about what he sees as the problems and obstacles in his way of success.

“What kind of issues are keeping you from hitting your target?”

Then just listen. Whatever he says is the right answer, because I am interested in his overall perception.

Is the response from someone who is positive and feels supported, or besieged and left on his own?

Then, based on those responses, I might or might not get curious about his improvement activities. If he isn’t engaged in any, I’m not going to try to make anyone wrong, I am just trying to understand what is.

On the other hand, if there are improvement activities, then I am curious to know what he last tried, and learned, and what he plans to do next.

What kind of collaboration do I hear about?

What is the sophistication of the targets, the challenges, the experiments?

THOSE are the things that tell me how “lean” a company is… not whether or not they have uniform label colors on everything.



3 Replies to “The Simplest “Lean Audit””

  1. ANY time, and i mean ANY, that I see somebody whip out some “audit form” for lean where you go through bit by bit and score stuff I’m leery of their methods. To me those types of audits are what i call “stage two” knowledge which is miles behind where I want anybody trying to implement anything. They are well intended but trivial and the people that use them are typically not that well versed but they believe they are. There is a lot of that going around. It seems like for quite a few years it was kind of consultant best practice to provide the audit and then it went rampant like most things do in business.

    1. Gary –
      Your concept of “level two learning” is, I believe, right on.
      I have seen for years a fairly predictable pattern of stages for practitioners.

      At about two or three years, they are pretty good at looking at pretty much any process and figuring out how to make the lean tools work there. This is actually a really valuable level of maturity, and required before deeper knowledge can be gained.

      But at that level, they aren’t really challenged to learn more either, and many of them stop learning and get stuck there.

      I’d call this your “level 2” as this seems to be when audits become the answer.

  2. This is the stage where we are at. My fear is that, the audit and the system to check those audits become the answer. I don’t want that to be the end state, I want to be able to step out on the floor and without any audit sheet know if my team is ahead or behind, and the reasons why.

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