Strong Supervision: The Key to Long-term Kaizen


    Kaizen and Lean Manufacturing thoughts | Gemba Panta Rei

    This is a great article by Jon Miller from the Panta Rei lean blog.

    Here is a link to the Financial Times article he referenced (you have to do a free trial to the website to read it).

    I can't agree more about the role of strong and capable supervision. At my last manufacturing company, they had long ago pulled out the first line supervisors as “non-value added”, yet another “cost savings” that ends up costing more money I believe. Each manager had at least two departments with at least 30 employees each. As Jon writes, the managers were simply overwhelmed and could not spend enough time on the gemba. They certainly didn't know their processes well enough to train or coach operators on the process.

    As with other factories I've seen, if you let a factory run without supervision, you'll ge the results you deserve. From our lean group, we argued a long time that they needed to add “working team leads” to each department, ala Toyota. They would be the “best” of the operators from each team (someone with the right coaching and problem solving abilities). Management agreed, in general, to the concept and even talked to HR. But, I think cost got in the way.

    Strangely though, they added another production manager, so you now had three instead of two (scope of employees went down to about 20). But, for the cost of a manager, they could have added a number of team lead roles (taking existing employees, giving them a pay boost, and then reducing enough NVA work so the team leader didn't have to run production 100% of the time). But, I think management's bias is that “management” fixes things, not operators (even under the name of “team lead”). Sad.

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. This is a great post. I agree with you — first level leadership, whether they be team leads or supervisors, are critical to the success of any manufacturing operation. Managers, while not bad people, are usually too far away from the action to be able to make meaningful and timely interventions.


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