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The role of a leader is to plan, organize, direct and evaluate. This is a basic assessment to help you determine where your company is in its Lean journey, and to identify opportunities for improvement. These questions don't cover every aspect of Lean improvement, but if completed, they represent a big step forward in your Lean deployment. This exercise is most effective if carried out as a group, with everyone's answers shared and reasons discussed, and improvement actions defined together. So where do you stand?

Shared vision - The true North

If I asked your employees "why" the company exists, would I get a more solid answer than "to make money"? Do you have a shared vision of your company's "true north", its raison d'être and its culture? What percentage of employees are aware of your company's vision? How do you know they do?

Value and waste

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

5S in place

If I took a tour of your workshop, your worksites, your office and your service vehicles, would I see any evidence that you're applying 5S? Would I see less treasure hunting? Do you apply 5S in your office? Are your 5S efforts supported by management? If you don't apply 5S, you're not doing Lean! (Masaaki Imai) Do you conduct monthly audits to assess 5S progress?

Lean thinking

Do your field managers (foremen and forewomen) practice and think Lean? Do they hold effective daily meetings? Do they help workers to make improvements? Do they help improve faulty processes, or just blame people? Do they measure and understand PPC? Do your workers start work on time? Do your field staff avoid ordering materials and prefabricated elements in large quantities that aren't needed at all on the day? How do you know? Lean isn't sustainable unless it's practiced by front-line leaders. One of the laws of Lean is that problems can only be solved where they are, by talking to the people who live with them and whose current actions contribute to the problem. (James Womack)

See the muda (waste)

Are you and your managers living Lean? Do you carry out regular walks to detect muda (waste)? Are you reducing inventories, especially "reserves" on construction sites? How many improvements have you personally made this year? A good target is two improvements per month per employee. How do you and your management team rate yourself? Do your managers use A3 formats to discuss and solve problems? How do you know? Lean won't be experienced by employees in the field if senior managers don't put their money where their mouth is. Your workshop and worksites are a reflection of your management. Are they Lean?

Managing according to Lean priorities

If asked, could your employees, and especially your supervisors and managers, name the three Lean management priorities and explain how they apply these priorities? How do you know they are respecting these priorities? The three Lean management priorities, in order of priority, are: 1) Ensure that teams only carry out value-added work. 2) Reduce inventory. 3) Reduce other costs. Never do points 2 or 3 at the expense of point 1. The primary cause of regression (in Lean deployment) in most organizations today is confusion about priorities at different levels of the organization. (James Womack)

Lean operational indicators
Are you using and displaying effective Lean indicators? What gets measured gets results, which can be good or bad! What do you measure? Do you display your results so that everyone can see them? Do you use them to identify opportunities for improvement? The most effective Lean operational indicators are the following:
  • PPC for the field planning system and productivity
  • Quality of work (defects and checklists)
  • Production cycle time and on-time delivery
  • Project executed as announced, enabling the customer to proceed with commissioning on time or ahead of schedule

You can rate your company on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 corresponding to little or no progress and 5 to total success. Once you've obtained your score, look at the weak points and define measures for improvement. If you're not happy with the scores, review your answers to the questions and determine the steps you need to take to improve. Proceed to PDCA analysis of actions. Don't be discouraged if you feel your score is very low. Frustration can make your blood run cold; the important thing is to keep going and keep trying. If you can honestly answer all these questions with a "5", it means you're on the right track in your Lean journey. It doesn't mean you've completed your journey. There's still a long way to go. It does mean that your company has reached a milestone on its journey, so celebrate today and start doing more tomorrow.

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Construction engineer from ECAM Brussels Engineering School. I started my career in Belgium's largest general contractor nearly 3 years ago as a Lean & Planning engineer. I don't have much experience compared with my colleagues, but I've already been able to implement LPS on a dozen projects in Belgium, France and Cameroon, of various sizes (from €10M to €400M). A strong character and soccer referee since I was 15, I've always liked to take the lead and take on challenges.