3 Things a Lean Leader Does in an Unstable Environment

One of most difficult obstacles to implementing lean is an unstable environment. Leanleader_certStability is essential to the success of lean, so what does a lean leader do if issues beyond control create an unstable environment?

1. Standardize Wherever Possible

My work at LeanCor revolves around an IT development team. Unlike a production facility, we don’t create the same outputs every day. Our internal customers demand different tools depending on their business needs, and developing those tools requires different and distinct processes for each project. When asked to standardize and create standard work, I am tempted to use the excuse: “My processes are constantly in flux!” But I still have weekly tasks that can be standardized. For example, if I recognize that my team lacks coding time due to managing outside questions and requests, a potential solution is to standardize development time. This could be managed by implementing a rotating schedule of team members assigned to answer questions throughout the day. This would allow team members to code free from distractions.

A lean leader looks for opportunities to standardize even in a non-standard environment. Standard processes provide baselines from which to improve.


Dwight Eisenhower once said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Lack of information is the number one killer of a good plan, and if you operate in an unstable environment then lack of information is often prevalent. If your production is unlevel, and there is nothing you can do about it, then the power of a Plan, Do, Check, Act process becomes your best friend. Being able to swiftly respond to change is the next best alternative to instability. Like standardization, plan where you can, but be prepared to pivot when your plan needs to change. One tool to help mitigate risks during the planning process is a Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA). This tool identifies all places where they can perceive a failure taking place, and identify the risks in the event that the failure occurs. In a sense, it allows you to plan for potential adjustments.

3. Empower 

All team members are responsible for the success of your team. This is a cultural shift from the normal working environment. When something goes wrong in a typical environment, people often seek someone to blame. A lean leader will seek a process failure to blame instead. When the team fails, it fails together. Someone doesn’t need a manager title to demonstrate leadership. If you are a manager, then your job should be to ensure that all of your employees support the team in continuous improvement and error prevention. If you are a team member on a lean team, hold others accountable to show leadership.

Instability is the enemy of lean, but you can navigate an unstable environment by following these practices. Standardize what can be standardized, adapt to change through PDCA, and team members across the entire team.



Read More:

5 Tips On PDCA: Team-Wide Implementation

Developing the Cultural Change through a Lean Leadership Course

A Lesson From LeanCor’s Online Lean Training: 3 Focus Areas for Lean Leadership



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Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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