Guest post by Jon Terry.
Lean is an evolved approach to business that emphasizes transparency, accountability, and efficiency in order to maximize the value produced for the customer. At the team level, Lean helps teams and the individuals within them optimize their efforts toward the creation of value. Lean helps teams stay focused on goals, with the agility to respond to changes in the market.
What Do High Performers Have in Common?
In 2016, we sent out our first Lean Business Survey to learn more about how Lean was being applied in knowledge work. We compiled the data into the Lean Business Report, in which we told the story of how the Lean movement is spreading across and transforming some of the world’s largest organizations—often, one high-performing team at a time.
In analyzing the data, we became fascinated by this question: What do all high-performing Lean teams have in common? We were most interested to learn about the super-performers—the teams that were mature in their knowledge of Lean, with stellar results to boot. What insights can we learn from the experience of those teams that can help others as they adopt Lean? How do these teams avoid common project management mistakes and avoid pitfalls?
Here are six lessons to learn from high-performing Lean teams.
Recruit an Executive Sponsor
Adopting Lean requires teams to transform the way they work—and transformations do not happen overnight. This is where an executive sponsor can be incredibly valuable—to understand the value of Lean, communicate that to their peers, and support the team in their transition. In fact, 69% of high-performing teams said that executive sponsorship was the most helpful tactic for their success.
Respect the Journey
Every team and every organization has its own unique journey towards becoming Lean—and no path is better than another. Some high-performing Lean teams are founded as part of Lean organizations, while others lead the Lean adoption in their organizations. Many Lean adoptions begin in software development or another realm of IT, but some don’t.
What’s important is that the team stays in sync. According to high-performers, that means using common language, consistent practices, and ideally, a common tool or set of tools to help them implement Lean.
Use Power Tools (Effectively)
When building a house, it’s helpful to have a wide variety of power tools. But if you try to hammer in a nail with a drill, you’re unlikely to succeed—and you might hurt yourself, too. The same is true with Lean tools: While many teams reported using a variety of Lean tools—from Kanban to Continuous Flow to OODA Loops—if you start out by using all of the project management tools at once, you could end up overwhelming your team with too many options.
For most teams (about 83%), their Lean journey includes Kanban, a visual method of managing workflow. Using Kanban, teams can learn how to actively manage their work, instead of allowing their work to control them. From there, high-performing Lean teams implement WIP (work-in-process) limits, which can improve speed of delivery, quality, and throughput while reducing stress across the team.
Obsess Over Metrics
Management guru Peter Drucker said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” A key element of Lean thinking is relying on data—not “gut,” the highest paid person’s opinion, or past experience—to make decisions. This way, we can ensure that the decisions being made will provide the greatest value to the customer.
High-performing Lean teams don’t only measure the performance of their work, they also measure their own efficiency and speed with Lean metrics like cycle time, lead time, and current team and personal WIP. This allows them to use data to not only improve their work, but improve the way they work as well.
Keep a Laser-Focus on Flow
The goal of Lean is to optimize the flow of value to the customer. Using insights from our customers, Lean teams and organizations make decisions to create more value or eliminate waste from their processes in order to achieve this goal. High-performing Lean teams know improvements to flow don’t just happen—flow has to be a conscious priority across the team.
When asked about their Lean priorities, high-performing teams made it clear that they were focused on flow. Compared to low-performing teams, they were significantly more likely to prioritize goals related to flow, such as increased team productivity, more efficient processes, and better change management.
Don’t Fret About Experience
Our survey data showed that although Lean performance definitely correlates with experience, beginners should not be discouraged: 88% of teams who identified as beginners reported moderate to significant improvements in project success. Their success only improved as they matured.
Teamwork: The Ultimate Advantage
“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”
This quote by consultant and author Patrick Lencioni speaks to the often neglected—but truly fundamental—truth that all high-performing Lean teams know: At its core, Lean is all about teamwork. We work to improve our processes, master our craft, and collaborate better out of respect for every member of the team. When teams work smarter, not harder, they are better able to enjoy their work, pursue ideas with passion, and build careers they can be proud of.
As chief evangelist, Lean-Agile strategy at Planview and former co-founder of LeanKit, Jon Terry helps enterprises around the globe discover how to increase effectiveness, optimize processes, and deliver value faster with Lean-Agile principles. Jon actively seeks to raise awareness of the benefits of Kanban and visual project management, and is a highly sought-after presenter within the Lean-Agile community. Connect with Jon on LinkedIn.