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Lean Team

By Joel Bradbury

Lean team in action

What Is a Lean Team?

Lean manufacturing has changed the shape of businesses, improving processes for the better. Lean teams enable companies to facilitate positive change in the workplace and respond to problems in a timely manner. Strictly speaking, a lean team is a group of individuals empowered to make quick decisions and take actions that benefit their company.

Developing a Lean Team

Creating an effective lean team requires businesses to define and form teams around their current processes. In order for these teams to be effective, they must be comprised of workers from each relevant department and be empowered to make process improvements.

Forming a team: Once the various processes have been defined, it’s time to create teams that can focus on improving individual processes. This does not mean that the team should only consist of workers in the same department. Let’s, for example, look at an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) company. The EPC’s current proposal process frequently results in bids that are overpriced (causing the company to lose the bid) or underpriced (reducing the company’s revenue).

The current problems might be the result of poor communication among the stake holders in the proposal process. A properly developed lean team could improve communication and lead to positive change by including people from each department involved in the proposal process. Instead of making changes based on a single perspective (that of the proposal group), changes would account for the “entire” proposal process, which could involve:

  • Purchasing
  • Engineering
  • Project management
  • Logistics
  • The field service team

By forming a lean team with members from each relevant department, the team can effectively identify problems and develop targeted solutions that improve their assigned process.

Empowering the team: Traditional business structure has resulted in an often vertical power structure that accepts minimal input from employees down the line, making it difficult to improve processes in a timely manner. A lean team addresses this problem by empowering each team to make decisions and facilitate change. The roles and responsibilities of each team need to be clearly identified, as well as the method for improving processes. Each team must then be empowered to make reasonable changes without having to move through the entire command structure.

Lean Team Hierarchy

Lean teams function in a hierarchy that includes all levels of the business. There should be a group leader that facilitates communication and improvements among several teams. Each team, in turn, has a team leader responsible for implementing reasonable improvements and getting approval from group leaders. Each team member is responsible for finding and solving problems in their assigned area. Once a potential solution is identified, team members get together with the team leader and develop the solution.

Lean Team Hierarchy

A key aspect to a lean team’s structure is that each group is empowered to implement improvements within its scope of responsibility. When an improvement impacts multiple groups, the group leaders bring the idea to upper management for approval and additional support. Overall, this structure ensures that each team has the ability to implement change, ensuring that the lean program gains the momentum that it needs.

Implementing a Lean Team

Implementing a lean team requires total involvement from the top of an organization to the bottom. Every worker, supervisor, and manager must be dedicated to positive change. Workers should expect practices to improve, and management should provide the support needed to create change. For this to happen, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the workplace culture. Managers must be trained to be leaders and facilitators of change, and team members need to learn to continuously improve processes.

While changing the workplace culture can be difficult, lean tools like Kaizen, 5 Whys, and Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) can help with this shift.

Kaizen is a philosophy of continuous improvement that requires every worker, from the CEO to the shop floor assistant, to be involved in improving business practices. Kaizen can help with this shift by creating a culture where workers improve practices each day and where management provides the support needed for positive change.

Five Whys enable workers to find the origin of a problem and fix it, rather than focusing on surface-level issues that that will not solve the problem. As its name suggests, Five Whys involves employees asking “why” until the problem’s root cause is found.

PDCA is a lean tool that resolves issues with four steps: Plan, Do, Check, Act. Once a problem is found, this tool enables team members to address it by systematically creating a solution, testing it, reviewing its success, and applying it.

Lean Team Solutions

Graphic Products’ offers a comprehensive lean manufacturing content library that can provide the tools lean teams need to be successful. Learn how to kick-start Kaizen in your workplace to create a  workplace culture of continuous improvement with our in-depth Best Practice Guide to Kaizen. By developing a culture of continuous improvement, companies will have the foundation they need to form effective lean teams.