My friend Bob is struggling to get a lean transformation started at his new company. He’s knowledgeable and experienced, but he’s been unable to get traction at the main plant. He’s tried everything—teaching intro classes to lean principles, taking people on waste walks, putting them in Ohno Circles, leading 5S events, practicing Toyota Kata—nothing has worked. He’s made as much progress as a piece of congressional legislation over the past few years.  

Bob believes that one of the primary causes for the lack of progress is the shortage of managerial and supervisory experience. Most of his plant leadership team was recently promoted from front-line roles. As a result, it’s difficult for them to break the habit of solving problems themselves. When something goes wrong, they immediately dive in and fix it, rather than coaching workers to understand root cause and deal with it at their level. And that makes it nearly impossible for Bob to get the managers and supervisors to focus on continuous improvement because they’re constantly distracted by the latest problem.


But of course, the more fires they douse, the more fires break out. Unless they develop front-line operators’ problem solving capability, they’re sowing the seeds of their own demise

So what to do?

Bill Walsh, the legendary football coach who led the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl championships in eight years, was famous for scripting the first 20-25 plays of each game for his team. (This is now a habit for many NFL coaches.) Pre-determining the early phases of the game provided two major benefits. First, the ability to rehearse the exact sequence of plays during practice enabled the team to execute more cleanly during the game. Second, he could test how the opponent responded to certain plays and formations, helping him implement more effective countermeasures later in the game. 

It occurs to me that Bob might be able to “script the plays” for the managers and supervisors, which might bring stability to their work, and teach them how to coach, rather than solve, shop floor problems.

“Scripting the play” goes beyond leader standard work. It’s not just blocking out time for a gemba walk or a meeting. Rather, it would be a precise agenda for the first 30 or 45 minutes of each day: walk the floor along a pre-set route; ask a set of pre-determined questions; take 10 minutes for prescribed reflection with Bob. Only if a literal (not metaphorical) fire breaks out would they be allowed to vary from the script. 

Sure, the company could invest in leadership training. But classroom lectures, readings, and exercises are, at best, difficult to transplant to actual shop floor interactions, and at worst, a waste of time. Scripting the play might be the wedge, or the on-ramp, needed to instill new habits and help the managers and supervisors move from an operator mindset to a manager mindset. 

Have you tried anything like this? Let me know. And I’ll keep you posted on how this turns out.