Some Assembly Required: Racing Bikes and Management Systems

Posted on by Karen Flom

Racing bikes are designed for maximum performance.  The design is intended to minimize aerodynamic drag, rolling resistance, and weight.  With an untrained eye, you may identify its parts:  tires, crank arm, pedals, handlebar stem, brakes, and shifters.  Looking at the parts may not give insight into the assembly of how to best optimize performance.  If assembled in the wrong way, the parts will not be able to function, let alone reach the desired level of high performance.  However, if you assemble a racing bike according to the intended design, you’ve got something perfectly fit to its purpose.

What most people see first

Much like the intentional design of a racing bike, a lean management system is the result of intentional design.  When we introduce the framework of a lean management system, we start with the end in mind and review all of the core elements, focusing on each individual element’s purpose and connection to the principle-based behaviors which bring it to life.  Some of the elements of a management system are the tools which enable the system to deliver results.  Other elements represent the skillsets which the system framework can help develop.  Still other elements bring our focus to the mindset of approaching our work in this way.  At a first glance, a full system can appear overwhelming and it seems that the tangible elements – the tools – capture people’s attention first.  They get excited about scorecards and performance huddles and may ignore the elements of building a leadership team or leading with principle-based behaviors.

Some assembly required

Let’s take the example of the performance scorecard.  Initially, many leaders see the value of a scorecard and run to establishing a tool which represents every metric they think is important.  Without the insights from team involvement and support from other elements of a management system, a scorecard tool has little value.  It becomes the pedal of the bike that is not quite aligned with the chain.

In building this system, the scorecard is designed not as the starting point, but rather a later piece of the puzzle, dependent upon the success of other elements.  We often refer to the sequence of mindset, skillset, and toolset as the process to build a system.  Mindset – which we define as purpose and intent – needs to be the starting point.  Building a process or tools with an old mindset will not further the work.  To get to the scorecard, you must start with the mindset of the team owning the performance of the organization, reflected in the element of building a leadership team.  Developing a leadership team is about being inclusive and engaging stakeholders. It is important to ensure that you create a wholistic view  on the business through this team.

With the mindset of an engaged leadership team, developing the skillset is reflected in the standards of the monthly performance meeting.  This meeting provides structure for the team to practice the skills of system thinking in their problem solving, focusing on the process, defining metrics, and understanding where the data originates and what it is telling you.  The process for this meeting reinforces the skill for leaders of closing the loop on improvement and developing the muscle of focus on the critical few which enables the team to let the less critical things simmer so their work better aligns with the organization.  Through this process, the team builds connection to their organization’s purpose and finds meaning in their work.  The structure of a monthly performance meeting reinforces a team who is responsible to each other.  Without these skillsets, the team cannot take action on the improvement opportunities which are surfaced by the performance tracking.

The final piece of assembly of this section of a management system is the scorecard tool itself.  The tool supports the purpose and intent of performance review.  This tool also provides the structure for leadership teams to practice, learn, and improve.

When it all comes together

Being able to see performance is a core deliverable of a management system.  When the system is assembled correctly, teams are not only able to see performance, but they also collectively understand what is causing variation and are able to act on opportunities to improve, in alignment with the organization’s vision.  These elements are designed to work together, allowing teams to gain deeper insight both in terms of performance and of the system itself.  Like a racing bike, a well assembled management system will enable your team to get where they are intending to go farther, faster, and more efficiently.

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