Lessons from Sensei Imai

Posted on June 22, 2012 by

 Last Friday, many of us had the pleasure to listen to Dr. Masaaki Imai, a well-known lean sensei who made a special presentation to King County. In his talk, I was particularly struck with a recurring theme he stressed over and over again. The theme was that for lean and continuous improvement to succeed, there needs to be strong commitment from the most senior leadership. Not surprising, when one considers that lean goes well beyond just a set of tools. In his view, leaders must continually demonstrate discomfort with the stauts quo (kaizen thinking), and take time to learn and then model the new competencies of lean management. So the fundamental challenge is for leaders to be committed to a new model for business and management, but in order to arrive at commitment, they need to courageously learn then deomnsrate lean principles through behavior, not delegation. It is learning by doing, even if sometimes it feels like “faking it til we make it.” This takes time, effort, and can make leaders feel vulnerable. This can be anything from sponsoring an improvement workshop to conducting a “go-see.” 

The reward for these individuals willing to make that leap is immense. Not only do staff appreciate leaders who care about improving operations, leaders themselves begin to understand continuous improvement can solve long-standing problems that were earlier seen as insurmountable. And through this iterative process, everyone learns something.