Balance between control and improvement

Balance between control and improvement: why front line leaders should be given pivot roles

Lean basic process control symptoms:

  • Front line leaders give up and spend time in meetings instead of shop floor
  • Near misses in primary work. Informal procedures are followed;
  • Pride of workmanship not recognized at higher organization levels
  • Cost driven Lean Six Sigma program

I had several situations in which the momentum of the program brings criticism to silence and at the same time becomes a threat for continuity in the basic process. For process industries and healthcare, this can cause major risks.

Imagine resistance is justified. Pushing harder does not work: “grass does not grow faster when you pull”. Pushing for results without listening to the reasons behind will frustrate the first-line supervision. We do not respect anymore their primary responsibility to balance process control and process improvement.

One of the core values of Lean is listening to those who do the work. Employees will never encourage changes that undermine their self-control of basic tasks. Pressure of shareholders will make it tempting for management to stimulate those employees that propose daring improvements, even if other employees do not support.

Balance between control and improvementAt first sight, a Lean Six Sigma program may seem successful. But, if the basis of Lean is not recognized, the program will certainly fail. A first signal will be a dramatic increase in small incidents, but will these be reported by the supervisors?

In the pictures, the role of the first-line supervisor is illustrated. The foreman looks upward in the organization to many parallel staff areas that impose processes upon him or her. HR reviews, financial data, IT, Logistics, etc.

Often we do not respect how many avoidable costs (red arrows) are prevented by supervision –  it is taken for granted. Let us give supervisors the authority to accept improvements (green arrows) to the level that the risks remain under control.


About the author

Vitalizing struggling Lean Six Sigma programmes is what I do.
Or starting from scratch! My challenge is simplifying methods to the minimum, thus only keeping the essential. Many projects require a simple tweak to bring success.
Apart from academic knowledge and balanced approach, many programs just need raw energy as well. The new training facility in Zuilichem provides an inspiring accommodation for training or reflection sessions.

Specialties: The handouts and course material is all full written text (not powerpoint!) and Dutch text. A specialty are the many hands on training tricks, of which the “paper factory” is the most extended one. This factory enables the training of the organisational development of a group, using sequential simulation runs of table top process industry.