Posted on December 26, 2009 · Posted in Leadership, Lean Thoughts

Can you walk into someone’s facility and tell how Lean they are?

Does that seem like an odd question? I ask because consultants have to do it all the time. Some get to the point that they don’t even need to get to Operations before they know the state of “Leanness” of an organization. What are they looking for? In a word: transparency.

Are you sick of that word? Lots of organizations use transparency in their values statement, not because they are, but because they hope they’ll grow into it. What does real transparency look like? Among other things, real transparency looks like graphs.

How do graphs tie in with the subject of this blog? Easy. One of the important elements of Lean is that it presses decision-making – hence authority – deeper down the hierarchical pyramid. In order to do that, Lean organizations have to train each successive level in several skills:
* How to gather data
* How to problem solve
* How to make good decisions

The data-gathering part of the that process results in charts and tables posted in the workplace (Gemba) where they can be observed and decisions made therefrom. In Lean organizations charts are current. If you think that through, it’s easy to understand why. If they’re actually making day-to-day, hour-to-hour, even minute-to-minute decisions from these charts, they want the information on those charts to be the most current.

So, if I walk into a facility and find charts & graphs out of date, I know two things immediately.
1. The charts are window dressing
2. The leadership of the organization doesn’t have its heart in this Lean transformation

Okay, you say. I get the first statement but how do you make the leap to the observation about leadership?

There is at least one correct answer to that question. I’ll share it in my next post, but I’d be interested in your thoughts on the matter. Feel free to add your thoughts.

POST SCRIPT: The answer to the question?

Data Collection, to include graphing of data, should be associated with a push to make better decisions lower in the organization. Hence, if graphs are out of date, they aren’t being used in the decision-making process. Further, if they are part of the flow down of metrics associated with a Hoshin Plan (Strategy Deployment), then those graphs should not only lead to good decisions locally, but should be forwarded to the next level in the hierarchy for inclusion in the body of data used to make decisions at that level. If the graphs are out of date, it means that NOBODY is using the data for decision-making purposes. That’s the beginning of the end of a Lean transformation.

Robert B. Camp, an active Lean consultant based in Williamsburg, Virginia, is the author of “Go and See: A Journey About Getting to Lean” (, a thoughtful manual built from real life experience about the many aspects of growing a lean company and fostering a lean culture. Available in instant-download or handsome paperback from