Lean CEO – Redefining work and respecting IT workers

This blog post is based on both my experience and learnings from The Lean CEO book by Jacob Stoller, looking closely at what organizations like Toyota were doing in Japan several decades ago. I (Wim) hope to blog more on my learnings from this book, especially as they pertain to helping both my own businesses and those of my MSP peers around the world, and of course, helping our Autotask/ConnectWise Kanban partners.

In the Lean context of looking to workers (not management) to identify and solve problems, this new work environment calls for workers to exercise multiple skills. That transfers not only responsibility but also respect to the worker. Management must have great faith in the ability of workers not only to complete tasks but also to provide input for improving them. This is a big change from the old stereotype that workers just need to shut up and follow the boss’s instructions.

To establish this, each work step has to be precisely defined, and an important role for each team member is to create and maintain standards: concise documents that spelled out their work. Those documents must be posted in clear view and specify the following:

  • The time required to complete the work
  • The sequence of steps involved
  • The materials required

Supervisors become coaches who remove barriers and help workers understand and improve their work processes. It is important to develop procedures to help people break down a job into components and optimizing them, and at the same time to improve the human relations aspect of a job. A common expression for this is “taking the work to the man, not the man to the work”. It must be obvious what should be done next, and how to do it.

In the IT Service Provider / Managed Service Provider ecosystem, this can easily be adapted using things like ticket templates, configurations, the ITIL framework, and SOPs (standard operating procedures). From the perspective of visualizing workflow, these things should be clearly visible and accessible, whether using a Kanban Board or a PSA (Professional Services Automation) tool. Training also needs to be given to EVERY worker on the tools being used, to enable them to see what’s possible, suggest effective improvements, and implement them. 

As a manager or management team, here are questions to ask yourselves:

  • Are we identifying all the problems and potential solutions, or is our team?
  • Do you have an SOP culture where they are followed and everyone contributes to improving them?
  • Does my team push back on our recommendations and mandates by providing valid real-world reasons why they won’t work? (A good thing)
  • Are we setting our team up for success by giving tools to them like simple metrics, visual Kanban boards, SOP framework, templates, and easy to access documentation and knowledge?
  • Are common tasks/solutions re-invented, or are solutions being encoded into the system to avoid duplicate effort in the future?
  • Are we telling our people what to do, or owning our role as guides to guide them to discover the best solution on their own?