Common Struggles to Implementing a Management System

This is a revised and updated version of a previous blog of the same title that was originally posted on October 13, 2020.

The goal of the management system for organizational excellence is to develop people to solve problems and improve performance. An effective management system will also open lines of communication from the CEO to the front-line staff, the front-line staff to the CEO, and every level in-between. I am often asked about how organizations that have successfully implemented a management system got through the struggles of implementation and sustainment.

A management system cannot be built overnight, it takes time and dedication to create a strong and successful system. Here is some feedback and observations of organizations that have implemented a management system and how to overcome some of the struggles of implementing a management system.

Aligning the System of Systems 

Many times, we talk about our organizations being a system of systems that work to accomplish the organization goals.  I like to think about it as many gears that work together to keep the organization moving forward. When we think about a management system, it is linked to all the other systems we have working in our organizations.  Management systems cannot function in a vacuum.  Take a look at your management system.  How is it connected to the work of the leaders?  How is your HR or Finance system linked into the work of the daily management system you are using?  By connecting these systems, we can begin to see how the work happens and how they systems can work together to propel you to a successful and sustainable outcome.  One of the things that I have heard organizations struggle with is engaging their leaders in the daily management system.  The daily management system should be connected closely with the leader’s system to manage the organization’s strategy and daily operations.   When those gears are in sync, you can see how true north (otherwise known as the organization’s goals) is aligned from the Board to the front line.  If you can make that alignment happen, the work to achieve your goals becomes clearer and focused which allows everyone in the organization to learn together and continually improving.

Practicing A3 Thinking

It takes discipline to work through the process of scientific thinking. Proper A3 thinking requires taking time to plan, do, study, and adjust (PDSA). Sometimes organizations struggle because they think they know the answer or the cause of the problem, so they don’t go to gemba (where the value is created) or really look at what is currently happening. Other times people “fix” something and are quick to move on to the next problem and neglect studying the impact of the change that was made. A tell-tale sign that the A3 thinking process is not being used is when the same problem resurfaces over and over. The best way to reinforce A3 thinking is with proper coaching and support from leadership. Leaders should be asking humble inquiry questions and encouraging their team to keep an eye on the results of improvements to ensure the desired outcome is achieved. It is equally important to celebrate the great thinking and work of the team while reinforcing the process with the next problem to be solved.  When leaders go to gemba to support the front line, they are able to see how the work of the front line is impacting the system strategies and can link that back to the work of the senior team management system where strategy and organizational goals are set and/or adjusted.

Remembering to Observe and Adjust

One purpose of a management system is to provide structure for continuous improvement. Sometimes organizations spend so much time creating a new process and implementing it, that they forget to go back and see if there are even better ways to do the work once a standard has been created. If an organization does not take time to look at a process and adjust, they may notice that a new process inadvertently built in new waste or caused defects down the line. Process observations is one way to work through this challenge. Once a standard is established its important to build in time to watch the process to see how it is working.

Connecting the Daily Work to Driver Metrics

Often when an organization begins to implement a daily management system, they start by asking frontline staff to tell them about their headaches in an effort to surface problems and gain easy wins. It can be hard to say no to working on a problem that has been surfaced, especially by staff. Trying to work on everything can take the focus away from the driver metrics, or the work that will contribute to the True North goals of the organization. Once a team has begun to feel comfortable surfacing problems and is getting more comfortable with using PDSA cycles, it is important to start shifting thinking to aligning the problems identified with the driver metrics that they impact. This will help everyone to stay focused on the most meaningful work and help to prioritize improvement work.

Prioritizing Improvement Work

It would be impossible to work on every improvement idea at once, which is why it is necessary to have a process to prioritize the work. We have all seen improvement boards that have many improvement slips in the work-in-process section, but the slips are not moving to completion.  Sometimes they are there for weeks or months. This is an indication that a prioritization process may be lacking. Utilizing a PICK chart is a great way to help stay focused on the work that will have the greatest impact on the organization’s True North goals. A PICK chart is a method that allows prioritization based on impact and level of difficulty to solve. Establishing business rules for each department is another key to success when it comes to prioritization. Things like limiting the number of improvement slips in process and setting parameters around the time frame for improvement slips to progress toward completion are highly recommended. To reinforce that improvement work is a priority, it is essential that proper time is allocated for the team to work on the improvement ideas.

Remember that the goal of a management system is to develop people to solve problems. It will take time, patience, and persistence to get there, but a well-developed management system that is linked to the other systems within the organization can help any organization on the journey toward organizational excellence.

A great way to learn is by going to “gemba” (where the value is created).  When thinking about implementing or improving your management system, it might be helpful to go where someone has done this work.  We offer a number of options to go and see – one of which is our Lean Management System in Action workshop. In this workshop, you will have the opportunity to learn more about the specific elements of a management system as well as go to see how the organization made it work for them.  This is a great opportunity to hear from those that did the work regarding how they overcame some of these same struggles and what they learned along the way.

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Lean Management System in Action workshop

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