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The role of a leader is to Plan, Organize Direct and Evaluate. This is a basic assessment to help you evaluate where your company is in its Lean journey and identify opportunities for improvement. These questions do not cover all aspects of Lean improvement, but if achieved, they represent great progress in the Lean journey. This exercise is more effective if done as a management team, with everyone’s answers shared and reasons discussed, then set improvement actions together. Where do you stand?

Shared Vision – True North

If I asked your employees “why” the company exits, would I hear a more solid answer than “to make money?” Do you have a shared vision of what ‘true north’ is for your company – why it exists and the statement in writing? What percent of employees would know what your company’s vision is? How do you know they know?

Value and Waste

Do your employees know what “value” means to your customers, what the seven basic wastes are, and why we want to eliminate them? Improving value-added work and reducing waste are foundation principles to understanding and applying Lean. How do you know they know?

5S’s Sustained

If I toured your shop, your job sites, your office, and your service vehicles, would I see evidence that you are doing the 5S’s? Would I see less treasure hunting? Do you apply the 5S’s in your office? Are your 5S’s efforts being sustained? If you are not doing the 5S’s, you are not doing Lean! (-Masaaki Imai) Do you perform monthly audits to evaluate 5S’s progress?

Lean Thinking

Do your front-line leaders (superintendents and foremen) practice and think Lean? Do they hold effective daily huddles? Do they help workers make improvements? Do they help improve broken processes, or just blame people? Do they measure and understand PPC? Do your workers start work on time? Do your field people avoid ordering material and shop fabrication in large batches that are not all “needed” on the same day? How do you know? Lean is not sustainable until practiced by the front-line leaders. A Lean law of life is that problems can only be solved where they live, in conversation with the people who live with them and whose current actions are contributing to the problem. (James Womack)

Seeing Muda (Waste)

Do you and your managers live Lean? Do you perform regular Muda (Waste) Walks? Are you reducing inventory, especially “stashes” at the job sites? How many improvements have you personally made this year? A good target is two improvements per month per employee. How do your management team and you measure up? Do your managers use A3 formats to discuss and resolve problems? How do you know? Lean will not be lived by the front-line if senior managers do not walk the talk. Your shop floor and job sites are a reflection of management. Are they Lean?

Managing to Lean Priorities

If asked, could your employees, and especially your supervisors and managers, state the three priorities of Lean management and explain how they apply these priorities? How do you know they follow these priorities? The three priorities of Lean management, in order of priority, are: 1) Keep the crews installing value-added work. 2) Reduce inventory. 3) Reduce other costs. Never do #2 or #3 at the expense of the #1 priority. The root cause of regression (in Lean implementation) in most organizations today is confusion about priorities at different levels in the organization. (James Womack)

Lean Measures

Do you use and post effective Lean measures? What gets measured gets results, which can be either good or bad! What are you measuring? Do you post your measures so everyone can see them? Do you use them to identify opportunities for improvement? Most effective Lean measures are:

  • PPC for the field planning system and productivity
  • Quality work (defects and punch lists)
  • Cycle time and on-time delivery for the shop
  • Project delivered as promised, allowing the customer to ramp up on or ahead of schedule.

You can score your company on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being little or no progress and 5 being 100% successful. Once scored, look at the weak areas and set improvement actions. If scoring is not your thing, review your answers to the questions and determine what actions you will take to improve. PDCA the actions. Don’t be discouraged if you feel your score is very low. You can become frostbitten by frustration; the trick is to keep moving and trying. If you can truthfully answer all these questions with a “5” means you are doing great in your Lean journey. It does not mean you have finished the journey. There is so much more to do. It means that your company has reached a major milestone along the journey, so celebrate today and start doing more tomorrow.

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Dennis Sowards is a Lean consultant & guest writer for industry magazines with over 50 articles for trade magazines, including Contractor, SNIPS, Plumbing & Mechanical, Quality Digest, & Industry Week. His book, The Lean Construction Pocket Guide, has sold over 10,000 copies and is used worldwide.