Team Leaders, Tours & Metaphors (#22)

Today’s subject: Team Leaders, Kaizen and support functions.

The longer I spend in the lean game, the more I realise that it pretty much boils down to a couple of deceptively simple points; engaging people across functions in problem solving and kaizen, on the right problems at the right level of the business. Engaged people being those who are (i) receptive to understanding ‘know-why’ as well as ‘know-how’ and (ii) want to improve the situation they find themselves in.

“You’re telling me nothing new” I hear you shout at your screens, and that is indeed true. The annoying part of the human condition may well be that you can’t put an old head on young shoulders and most of us need to collect the scars ourselves before we believe those who’d been telling us it’d be painful. It’s a little like those people who give up on fad diets after 20 years of fruitless weight yo-yoing upon realising that they’ve just got to burn off more calories than they consume, consistently, day-by-day, as a habit.

One of simplest ways of harvesting kaizen ideas and engaging teams is the well managed PFU (Problem Follow-up) sheet. I’ve seen and used a thousand of these in different guises - Improvement Follow-up (IFU) Sheet, Problem & Countermeasure (PCM), Kaizen Plan Sheet (KPS) etc  – but they all seek the same end. Engaging a team in raising and implementing kaizen ideas, to improve something or bridge the perennial gap between target and actual. A typical one is shown below:

Talking of bridging across (slick link for the cycling fans amongst you there), it has been Tour de France season for the last 3 weeks. A couple of days ago I tweeted this about Chris Froome (the Team Sky ‘Team Leader’ and current leader of the race) who had just crashed on a mountain descent whilst trying to bridge across and catch some riders ahead. Froome was in yellow as race leader and his team mates are in the blue and black of Team Sky. Click on the tweet link above to see the small video excerpt I attached.

Froome was caught up by his teammates who, instinctively and without thought (following established team orders), sacrificed their day to get him back on a working bike (Geraint Thomas’s bike had been agreed beforehand as the contingency) and pace him back to avoid losing his tour lead.

In this metaphor, Froome is indeed the Team Leader and his teammates are the support functions in the business; Materials, Engineering, Quality, HR etc. Froome is the man attempting to get a good quality product across the finishing line in time. He can only do this if, when things go wrong, the support functions are there to assist to get the process back on track and solve problems outside of the Team Leader’s control.

The point to this laboured metaphor being this; Using a Problem Follow Up Sheet (PFU) is an effective way to flush out & increase the commitment of your support functions to the value adding process. Get Quality, Engineering and Materials onto the gemba, reviewing, supporting and taking a manageable number of actions. If you can crack this one and ensure that the operations side are supporting PFU up the levels, you’ll fly…maybe into the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) worn by the Tour de France leader.

A word of warning, the TL cannot be gifted an easy kaizen ride and has to own what they can control without trying to toss every problem upwards or to a support function. Hence “solving problems at the right level in the business” and it’s comely partner “making sure the pain is felt in the right place”. I’m pretty certain all 174 riders who finished the 3500km tour felt the pain.   

Bonne vacance if you’re off on holiday soon…next blog in September.


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