Where to Start with the Daily Management System?

By Jon Miller Updated on July 26th, 2020

Where do we start? This is one of the most common questions people ask throughout the continuous improvement journey. This is true not only at the very beginning but also at various stages. The word “continuous” is misleading. There is nothing continuous about the Lean journey. It is full of interruptions, slow climbs, periods of pause and sudden leaps forward. In reality, our efforts are intermittent. But the aim is for improvement to be frequent, regular, continual and without an end point.

The Stepwise Improvement of Launching a Daily Management System

One of the main discontinuous development milestones of an organization’s Lean transformation is the adoption and integration of a Daily Management System. This is a set of connected practices that includes the Daily Accountability Process, Leader Standard Work, Gemba Walks and Process Confirmation. Many organizations benefit from practicing these as individual routines or tools. They are most powerful when practiced as an interlinked system of plan-do-check-act cycles.

Where to Start in Building a Daily Management System?

Where does one start with building a Daily Management System? This depends on what problems need addressing, what good practices already exist, and where there is the least friction. To some degree, it doesn’t matter where we start as long as we are well-prepared to survive failures, learn from them, and continue experimenting. However, the logical approach is to start with the basic and build a foundation, which is the Daily Accountability Process.

Where to Start in Introducing a Daily Accountability Process?

Leader Standard Work aims to develop routines for leaders of all levels. Process Confirmation specifically targets process standards. Gemba Walks are done by people all levels for a variety of purposes. The Daily Accountability Process is unique in that it imposes a structure of daily management on the whole organization. It does so through what are called tier meetings. We can hardly launch into this with everyone across all tiers at once. This requires that we select an organizational tier as starting point.

What are Tier Meetings?

Tier meetings may take the form of daily project team huddles at a task kanban board, a shift start or shift change meetings by production team members or an all-hands morning meeting at a small company. Videoconference daily team check-ins via are becoming more common. Regardless of tier, the purpose for meeting is common. This includes tracking progress toward goals, raising issues and securing support to resolve them. But tier meetings vary widely in timing, location, content and duration.

Some organizations that deploy team huddles as part their Lean transformation take the approach of requiring certain levels of people to adopt tier meetings by a certain date. However, this not a simple matter of creating a format, asking everyone to practice it, and to communicate to the tiers above and below them. Certain elements of tier meetings are standard, must-have and non-negotiable, while many are best left as loose guidelines open to local adaptation. One size rarely fits all.

Why Huddle? The Burgess Health Center Story

Another great resource on this topic is the case study from Burgess Health Center. These videos cover why and how they rolled out huddles, starting from the hospital floor, challenges faced, lessons learned and the role of leaders as coaches.

Where to Start When Rolling Out Tier Meetings?

As with many continual improvement endeavors, a question we need to answer when rolling out tier meetings is whether we do so top-down or bottom-up. The first tier, or Tier 1, is the gemba. It is the front line, closest to where we add value, and where work is often most visible. There are natural arguments for starting bottom-up, at Tier 1. On the other hand, many people swear by always engaging the senior leadership team first in hands-on learning. There are arguments for starting this practice at the topmost organizational tier.

The Pros and Cons of Starting Tier Meetings Top-Down

One of the under-appreciated benefits of tier meetings is that it develops an organization’s capability to align goals and priorities, rapidly surface problems and resolve them. This is essential for successful strategy deployment. Many guides to hoshin planning explicitly state that Daily Management is its twin pillar yet fail to explain in detail how to build this discipline as part of strategy execution. Starting tier meetings top-down has the benefit of making hoshin planning more effective.

When tier meetings are introduced in a top-down fashion there is the obvious benefit of senior management support. If they see the wisdom of this approach and direct all tiers to follow suit, the effect can be electric.

However, there are downsides. It’s easy for leaders to say, “We already do this,” whether they do or not. Without the link of front-line business insight, real-life problem-solving examples and other eye-openers from the first tier, selling huddles to executive tiers may be hard. Even when they are sold and mandate it across all tiers, managers may behave as they always have while huddling around boards, just to comply.

The Pros and Cons of Starting Tier Meetings Bottom-Up

Starting at Tier 1 brings the benefits of exposing and resolving practical, day-to-day problems. This brings results faster than tackling higher-tier, long-term, strategic issues through top-tier huddles. Even small successes can build enthusiasm and belief, as front-line teams get the attention and support they need. The commonsense, Lean thinking approach would suggest starting at Tier 1.

There are downsides. While meetings are a normal part of life for managers and senior leaders, they are a distraction from adding value at Tier 1. There may be resistance to taking time away from value-added duties each day to huddle. Starting at and spending a lot of time at the first tiers can send the message to leaders that huddles are an “in the weeds”, operational or shop floor thing that doesn’t apply to the work of leaders.

A Mode Line Approach to Tier Meetings

An approach that combines both top-down and bottom-up deployment approaches is the model line. The model line scope is a limited but meaningful vertical cross-section of an organization. In a tier meeting model line, all tiers would start practicing together. The scope may be one front-line team or section, with huddle meetings linked at each tier up to the topmost leader. Daily performance is made visible, problems rise up when needed, and support flows down. The model line allows for a small-scale experiment of a full-fledged Daily Accountability Process.

The Pros and Cons of Taking a Mode Line Approach to Tier Meetings

The model line is run as a laboratory for a few months. This allows the organization to fail small, to see what support systems and enablers need shoring up, to figure out what needs to be standardized and what needs local freedom, communicate these things within the organization, and be better prepared for wider rollout.

There are three main downsides to taking a model line approach. First, it requires learning what we mean by a model line and its general pros and cons. In this approach, it’s one more thing to learn before starting with tier meetings.

Second, a model line approach to the Daily Accountability Process will result in one vertical cross-section of the organization, practice a set of Lean behaviors, while the others practice another way. This may lead to duplication of meetings or reporting, or conflicting priorities within matrix organizations. This can be managed, which brings us to the third point.

A model line is a project. It needs to be planned and managed. This requires people’s time and attention. It is expertise, time and cost not needed if tier meetings were just practiced organically or rolled out in limited fashion.

Take It Easy but Take It

It’s my professional opinion that there isn’t a single best way to roll out a Daily Management System, or most any system for that matter. It usually makes sense to start with the foundation, which is the Daily Accountability Process, and tier meetings. When it comes to tier meetings, I do have a slight bias towards the model line approach because it is uniquely suited for trying out the full linkage, communication and action between people across organizational levels.

Whatever approach we select, the important thing is to take action, but not to take extreme positions. Systems have multiple moving parts. Being too dogmatic or convinced about how one part of it should work often leads to embarrassment as other parts of the system have their say.

  1. Fab Moroso

    July 30, 2020 - 9:34 am

    I would add a paragraph to this article talking about discipline. Actually you can write a book on this matter but I believe David Mann wrote a chapter on it in “Creating A Lean Culture”. Discipline is the glue that holds the Accountability meetings together. At first everyone is gung-ho on these meetings but soon the whirlwind on the manufacturing or transactional processes takes over and one leader has a conflicting schedule, another has a machine they have to repair and soon you will be left with only 2 people attending or at the best people showing 5-10 minutes late to the meeting. Standard Work for these meeting should be posted and everyone agreed to it. Take attendance. If you cannot show up, designate a substitute and prepare them to answer questions. Management needs to have a talk with those that miss the meeting. This should be part of your job description. Talk to HR and get it on their job roles and responsibilities.

  2. Mark

    August 5, 2020 - 11:12 am

    Fab Moroso,
    Good comments! I couldn’t agree more!

  3. Hal Davis

    August 6, 2020 - 1:18 pm

    You have a lot of words on the system but never any place to register or see pricing!!

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