At the most basic level, a daily management system enables us to know each day whether we are on-track or off-track to meeting our goals. It provides a structure to expose problems and take corrective action. The system includes medium and longer cycle checks to ensure that we are sustaining previous countermeasures, process standards and improvements.
In practice, daily management is very simple and commonsense. However, its design and introduction require careful study and planning. There are many interlocking components that make the system work. But also, the these must be aligned with the organization’s values and beliefs. The leadership must take an active part in building the system. Perhaps more important, they must use it to shape and strengthen their leadership culture.
Here are some of the traits of a lean leadership culture and how a daily management system helps to reinforce them.
This trait is right there in the name of the daily management system routine known as the daily accountability process. This is a set of brief, visual, structured daily meetings, often known as huddles. These meetings are held by teams at each organizational tier. They escalate and communicate issues. This allow leaders to make and keep their commitments to support issue resolution. At the most basic level, leaders hold each other accountable by showing up
Leading by Example
A powerful demonstration of commitment to continuous improvement, the value of standards and personal accountability is to set and follow leader standard work. Each leader develops is with their boss or coach, practices it and learns from their standard work. It’s one of the more challenging aspects of daily management because the scope of leaders standard work is unique to the individual, not a process or team. Nevertheless, it’s a keystone capability and a great way to for leaders to shape culture by practicing what they preach.
The gemba walk is a one of the ways to demonstrate and develop mutual trust and respect between the leadership and the workforce. It often requires leaders to change how they present themselves, how they communicate, listen, observe, ask questions and follow up. It’s much more than a walk. It’s a structure for committing to be more present in the business. While many organizations use the gemba walk as a waste hunt or an occasional learning exercise. Gemba walk is most powerful when used to shape and sustain leadership culture.
The “daily” nature of this system helps an organization become more agile and adaptive. The short cycles of action and review allow leaders to check and correct course as needed. However, sometimes days may go by with no visible progress or opportunities to correct course. The daily meetings can start to feel repetitive or pointless. The solution is not to meet less often. It’s to break down tasks into smaller increments so that leaders can check each day, “What was your last step? What happened? What did you learn? What’s your next step?”
Attention to Detail
This one is debatable. Many senior leaders like to set the direction, keep eyes on a few large trends, and delegate the details to subordinates. However, being able to dive into the details from time to time is essential for early detection and course correction. The kamishibai system is a simple visual method of process confirmation to check that the organization is following its own standards and doing the basics well. In addition, process confirmation is a good way to shape the cultural trait of being tough on the process but easy on the people.
Bringing Issues to the Surface
All of the daily management routines rely on simple visual controls. The purpose is to make the status immediately apparent. From a culture point of view, it must be safe for people to raise issues and concerns to the leadership. Visual management is not an exercise in showing that all metrics are green, or on track. When that’s the case, it’s often a sign that we are hiding or failing to discuss bad news. Lean leadership encourages a common understanding of reality by making actual progress, delays and problems visible
Aligning Daily Work with Strategy
Sometimes leaders struggle to fully engage with the routines of a daily management system. They feel like it’s below their pay grade. Senior leaders are often discouraged from “getting into the weeds.” There is a fear of being too hands-on in the day-to-day, losing sight of big-picture strategic issues. The obeya method provides an approach to practice a visualization routine at the business strategy level, at an appropriate review frequency. Obeya is also a good way to bring the same leadership culture traits to “non-daily” areas of the business. This includes project work and development activities. Ideally, a daily management system is built from the top-level strategy so that the front-line activities are aligned with it.
The Job as a Place of Practice
This is not a full list of lean leadership traits. There are many ways to use a daily management system to shape culture. Each leadership team must set their own intention for building their culture. Where do they want to go? Where are they now? How can we deliberately practice these desired traits through our daily management routines?
The routines such as leader standard work, process confirmation, the daily accountability process, obeya and gemba walks are highly structured. In fact, we can view the daily management system as a set of practice routines. Together they help build the patterns of thinking and action that shape a lean leadership culture. The highest and best use of a daily management system is not to monitor and improve performance. Rather, it’s as a deliberate practice routine for shaping a lean leadership culture.