Introducing Lean Management
An Interview with Christine Bodart
By Corina Ciechanowr
Christine, I’m curious: you are an engineer, what led you to choose your profession?
Manager of Assets, Process, Risk & Security
in Transversal Production Services
Certified LEAN Practitioner
When I was young I was good at mathematics, but didn’t want to become a teacher, so I decided to go for engineering studies. This profession gives many career opportunities and a great variety of subjects. When I was working as Mechanical Engineer in the automotive industry, I was requested to implement an ERP system (Enterprise Resource Planning is a series of integrated applications managing the complete organisation from the Manufacturing workflow and up to Finance, HR and others). This was my first experience in IT, and I continued from then on in the IT discipline. I like that domain that changes so rapidly and where you can combine a helicopter view with detailed analysis. Also, IT allows me to support different business domains. I am now working in the finance industry, in the Production Services that run the bank on a 24*7 basis (24 hours a day, 7 days per week).
Christine, you are introducing Lean Management in your department, could you please tell us what made your company look into this?
One year ago, I became manager of the "Process Management Team". Three years ago, our company, one of the main Belgian banks, gained an ISO20K certification, that is a standard in IT Service Management.
To reach that certification, we documented the 27 processes that are executed in our company (as diverse as Incident, Problem, Configuration, Suppliers … management). As we are constantly trying to improve these processes, we decided to apply "lean methodology", since it’s one of the best methods proposed to address this issue: continuous "process optimization".
Could you please detail for us what is Lean methodology?
Lean is a production practice invented more than 20 years ago. The methodology considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful and thus a target for elimination. Working from the perspective of the customer who consumes a product or service, "value" is defined as any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for.
Lean is also introducing new values in the company and proposes a very different point of view of managing activities in a team: replacing old Taylorism management principles, Lean promotes empowerment of the people working in the field.
Lean is based on these 4 values:
1. Focus on ‘the voice of the customer’ is the first value. The process will be analysed from the customer’s point of view, and every activity that does not bring value to the customer will be a candidate for elimination, with an exception for ancillary activities (such as HR, accounting …) that are necessary to support the company’s operation. These typically wasteful activities are transportation, inventory, movement, over-quality, over-production and defect.
2. The second value is: ‘Make things visible’. The methodology recommends the implementation of visual management. Display some meaningful KPI's (key performance indicators), that will be key to evaluate performance and target improvement. Indeed, if you do not measure the quality of your activities, how will you verify that you are progressing in the right direction, reaching sufficiently challenging targets?
3. Continuous improvement organization: through the use of regular meetings such as the “progression dialog” (often weekly) or “daily huddle” (stand-up meeting of around 15 min) organized around this visual management; where any blocking point or problem will be welcome. Lean promotes a continuously learning organization that will address problem solving and root cause analysis (through asking "why" 5 times) as an opportunity for process improvement.
4. Finally, Respect for people is the last value promoted. This means that people working in the field are empowered as the main actors and are made accountable to analyse the quality and solve the problems encountered on the floor. The manager will support them in "quality problem investigation" to remove the blocking point.
When you implement Lean in your organization, your traditional management role will change from one based on control and direction of basic tasks, to leading your people and teams to a new place – a continuously improving organization, with a more enriching and rewarding work environment.
How do people react to the introduction of Lean Management, is it accepted by all employees? Could you please provide us with some examples of reactions?
As you can imagine not everybody reacts positively to change and this change in management practice is no exception. Imagine how you would react if you were told "your mission, if you accept it, is to make your job redundant". Some employees were afraid of being redundant once the process they were involved in became more effective. It is a very legitimate fear that had to be addressed in order to make them commit to the process of improvement. So the management took the commitment to reallocate people and even reward those who initiated a simplification or improvement "Lean is good for my career". They have been reassured that even if their job may disappear, there will be other jobs to be filled where they will be doing more productive work for the company.
How are you overcoming the resistances?
One important thing is that this change is supported by the top and middle management. Our company has to improve their processes in order to be competitive, and survival is a strong motivator! To help the process of adoption we count on explaining the purpose of this change and educating all our people on the values of the Lean methodology. We have to demystify wrong perceptions and show success stories. We have to change the perception of what makes the best team: it is not the team who has a lot to do, but the team who is available to immediately solve a problem or answer a question or deal with an incident. We want to promote role models, communicating their stories to make them visible. To promote this change of culture we must show-case Lean and we also have to give employees the ‘sense of urgency’. To do so we took as a pilot project the customers’ incident process: ‘Let’s clear the incidents backlog and increase our customer’s satisfaction’.
You mentioned your company is implementing Lean in 2 ways, could you tell us more about it?
Yes, we are planning to work on two different ways:
- Lean process optimization: process managers are analysing the processes and activities with the perspective of ‘the voice of the customer’.
- Lean management techniques on the floor: that implies:
This introduction of Lean techniques will be done in 4 stages, beginning with a ‘light’ usage of each Lean practice (such as visual management) to a full usage of Lean methods and tools.
This change in the way we work comes along with a change in the mind-set of our employees: We need to welcome problems as opportunities to make it better. We need to take lessons from our errors. Also the value of working as a team as opposed to having individual heroes is promoted.
Why is this Lean program lead by IT and not by a business department?
- The use of visual tools to make visible the situation,
- Doing a 5 min daily huddle (quick meeting to define priorities: was yesterday a good day? what do we have to do today?),
- Progression dialogue to reflect on problems encountered and define possible improvements.
Lean is under deployment in the whole company, but its deployment is particularly interesting in IT since most of the IT activities are not visible. In IT you can see people seated in front of their computer, but it’s difficult to know if things are progressing as planned or if they are encountering problems that jeopardise the delivery plan. In contrast, in a production line it’s immediately visible if something does not flow as expected.
How do you measure success in the implemented initiatives? What key performance indicator’s (KPI’s) do you use?
Let me be clear: we are on our first steps, only starting with some pilot projects. At this time we have to be modest and see how those projects work. But we will use data to measure our efforts: on the pilot I mentioned for example, we will have an indication of success if we can reduce or eliminate the queue of customer complaints!
What do you like the most about Lean?
The thing I like best is that LEAN starts with the customer in mind. We want to delight the customer. Competition is everywhere and we don’t want to lose focus and give our competitors an advantage. This is ‘the age of the customer’ and it has to be good for the company. And secondly and very important too, it empowers the employees. And the value of the company resides in its people, all of us.
Would you recommend other companies to go this way? And if yes, what do you see as the advantages?
Yes, I would recommend other companies to simplify their processes. It is in the interest of agile companies to go back to basics and see what the customer really needs. This management principle is reintegrating the full end-to-end view in order to simplify the activities.
And as I said before, a very important point for everybody in the company is that implementing Lean in the organisation will bring a better work environment, more enriching and rewarding.
A last piece of advice: when introducing Lean, take into account that managers have to digest this mind shift to support the approach. Some prefer just staying in their established routine instead of implementing this change. Use data to convince your people. And if you don’t have it, start getting figures to know what your situation is. I like the saying: ‘In God we trust, the others should bring the data’
After studying Mechanical Engineering, Christine Bodart worked as a research and teaching assistant at the Université Catholique de Louvain and took a PhD in Numerical Simulation. She worked then as a development engineer before setting up ICT (information, communication and technology) department at the new headquarters of a Japanese company starting in Belgium. Then, she joined a Belgium bank to become project and program manager, becoming a solution architect before leading the pool of technical and security architects. Recently, as the leader of teams of process managers, asset, operational risk and security management, she got the challenge to implement LEAN for IT while running operational activities combining people, processes, technology and security.
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Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of BNPParibas Fortis, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.