Lean Leadership: The Importance of Having All the Information

A few years ago, I was taking a bus full of high school students on a road trip. At one point, the air conditioner on our bus broke down in the hottest part of Alabama, forcing everyone to retreat into the nearest fast-food restaurant to avoid the heat. The driver presented us with several options. Option 1: The driver could attempt to fix the bus on his own (even though he didn’t know what the issue was and would need to call someone to figure it out.) Option 2: The driver could take the bus into the shop and have them fix it, but it would mean everyone sitting in the restaurant for an unknown period of time. Option 3: The driver could send for another bus and we would still need to wait for an unknown period of time. Option 4: The students could just deal with the heat and we could leave right then, however there were people on the bus with medical issues that could possibly be exacerbated by the heat.

One of my co-leaders was an accomplished businessman who buys and sells multi-million dollar companies out of his own pocket. We all stood around trying to decide the most effective solution, and my co-leader said something that has stuck with me as I have progressed in my professional career: “We shouldn’t do anything yet.” We were all trying to make the appropriate choice so that we could tell the driver as soon as possible and get the ball rolling, but we were not presented with enough information with which to make a viable choice. We didn’t know if the driver was even capable of fixing the bus himself, nor how long we would wait in the restaurant should he take it to a shop for repair. In addition we needed to know the health risks that would result if we decided to continue on ourselves without the bus.

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Collecting Better Information to Make the Right Decision

How often have you had to make a decision that you were uncomfortable making? Most times the decision is difficult because you didn’t have all of the information you needed. Information is one of the greatest assets for people pursuing lean leadership, yet we often get so engrained in maintaining the day-to-day operations that we forget to gather all appropriate information, often resulting in wasted time, excess inventory, defects, and ultimately money. If you are pursuing lean leadership then you will recognize that it is important to reduce this waste in lack of information. We are so obsessed with making decisions quickly in order to keep the ball rolling that we are willing to forget about gathering our decision-making ammunition, which is information.

As someone pursuing lean leadership in logistics and supply chain management, the temptation to maintain agility is stronger than in most other departments. We get phone calls from suppliers who say things such as, “the freight doesn’t fit on the truck and it is due at 6:00am tomorrow to a location 500 miles away.” The default reaction is to panic and set up a recover for this freight with a dedicated truckload within the next minute. If we had instead spent 10 minutes researching the issue and fully scoping out our options, then maybe we would have seen that we could have recovered the same freight with a truck that had some space on it and was already heading in that direction.

Lean leadership is not just about increasing agility, it is about maintaining that agility while delivering quality outputs. If we make better decisions based on gathering better information, we will actually become (perhaps at first counter intuitively) more agile. We will also have better outputs.

Below are three ways that a person who practices lean leadership can collect better information for decision making:

1. Improving Communication

Professionals who are seeking to grow their lean leadership abilities should examine how they communicate within their network – especially via email. When communicating via email, I’ve found that it’s most effective to state what information you need from the other party, which may involve a thorough explanation. This is a perfect example of what seems counter intuitive being actually necessary for increasing efficiency and agility. It may take you 10% longer to type an email, but it will reduce your email traffic as well since the recipient won’t send a follow-up request for more information. Typing an additional email typically takes a lot more time that providing the same information in a new email. When you request information from someone, practice the same logic and lay out in detail all of the information you need before sending the email; doing so will mean that you don’t need to send a second clarification email asking for more information

2. Documentation

Lean leadership teaches A3 thinking, which is that the notion that everything you need to communicate should be able to fit on one sheet of A3-size paper. This challenges project leaders to articulate and prioritize the necessary points. A useful best practice is to maintain a standard A3 template for all team member projects within your organization. The template would include all necessary information required to manage and present the project. This principle of documentation using templates can be applied to other communication avenues such as standard work processes, emails, and phone call scripts.

3. Information Systems

Lean leadership teaches visual management, which is a principle that relevant information should be available and organized in such a way that it is easy to manage and effectively communicated to your audience. Don’t fall for the temptation to hurry through your decisions. If it is worth making a decision about then it is worth gathering information. The importance of agility will tempt you to take the shortcut around information gathering but in the end it will lead to waste and it will actually decrease agility. If you are pursuing lean leadership, concentrate on improving your communication to gather the right information on the front end, documenting as much as possible to reference for future decision making, and ensuring that the information you see is the correct information and that it is easy to parse and use. If you pursue this you will be closer to practicing lean leadership and your organization will thank you for it.

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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