Tips for Lean Managers

13 Questions to Assess Lean Competence in an Organization

By Jon Miller Updated on May 24th, 2017

In a comment to an article about the four stages of competence, Mo asked:

Can this model be introduced to organisation who have not heard of lean, it is pretty obvious they will be considered as stage one “Unconscious Incompetence” but how I can test them, as they might have not heard of lean but they already implemented lean tools in one form or another, the questions is which area I need to investigate in to be able to understand the organisation ability to implement lean, how I can assess them and then prescribe the lean recipe to them?

People who have never heard of lean (unconscious) may still demonstrate lean behaviors (competence) while many who have studied lean (conscious) may fail to practice lean behaviors (incompetence). The following 13 questions are one way to assess whether an organization is failing to practice lean behaviors due to ignorance of these principles (unconscious incompetence) or practicing lean behaviors without formal education in lean theory (unconscious competence).

Processes management questions
1. Are standards viewed as limiting creativity and flexibility, or as essential starting points for safety, quality and continuous improvement?
2. Do improvement and optimization efforts favor local performance or does it favor overall performance even at the cost of local performance?
3. Is our approach “When in doubt, get the work out” or “When the queue is full, look for the pull”?
4. Is quickly getting to work on a plan valued above slowly forming a plan that will work?

Problem solving questions
5. Are problems allowed to remain hidden or are problems actively made visible?
6. Does problem data come to people or do people go see the facts for themselves?
7. Are broken processes running patched up or are they stopped long enough to correct?
8. Do we ask who is to blame or do we ask why?

People questions
9. Does the opinion of position and expertise hold sway or does the collected wisdom of experience ring as loud?
10. Are people viewed as short term costs or long-term investments?
11. Is leadership through management of results or through coaching of the process to achieve those results?
12. Do we treat vendors and suppliers as providers for a fee or as partners in success?

Purpose question
13. Are we pursuing mainly short-term financial results or balancing short-term results with process and long-term sustainability?

These questions can be asked with “all of the time, some of the time, never” as possible answers or a numerical ranking system. Allowing people within the organization to score themselves and then compare notes can be eye opening. As much as possible, require evidence and examples to underpin the assessment. Don’t get bogged down in detailed definitions, the key is not quantitative precision but qualitative accuracy.

Organization who receive high marks on this type of behavioral assessment would be unconsciously incompetent in lean management. The assessment process itself can help to make people conscious of the lean principles or competencies required, allowing them to start following the u-shaped curve in the graphic above.

  1. John Santomer

    October 8, 2011 - 8:15 am

    Dear Jon,
    I beleive the better question is…WHO will be able to answer these questions truthfully and reflect the real situation in the organization? Transparency is a fickle thing…

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