by Craig Corsi, Lead Consultant Vie Associates, LLC

5S- painted floorCompanies who have a thriving lean program are often driven internally by a dedicated champion. This is someone who exemplifies the drive, leadership, training, and commitment to lead a company to improve the organization’s operational performance, as well as increase total customer satisfaction. Lean champions are often the most critical part of a lean initiative, providing the knowledge, vision and dedicated focus required to maintain a continuous improvement environment. Lean champions typically have varied responsibilities and can come from different areas of the organization. Often times the individuals have a role within the company that represent the operational side of the business.

It’s not uncommon to find a vice-president or general manager spearheading the organization’s lean efforts but often times champions come from the middle management to supervisory levels of the business. Some may contend that it may be harder to affect change from these positions but what I’ve found to be most crucial is the person’s ability to relate to those he or she is leading. Successful lean leaders are people who have gained the respect from both upper management and the front line workers.

Abbott Lean Champions
Susan Williams and Carl Mohney became Lean Champions last year at Abbott Furnace Company.

Champions are certainly more than process improvement leaders. They’re often effective project managers who understand the underlying business issues that lean needs to address. Additionally, they set and maintain the goals of the improvement projects, making sure that they are aligned with the overall business objectives. They act as teachers, educating the entire organization on the importance of lean. They are also facilitators, helping to address organizational issues and keep lean initiatives on schedule. An important element of being a lean champion is the ability to motivate others. Above all, successful lean champions seem to work well with all levels of employees and navigate through the organizational roadblocks. An effective lean champion is someone who has a clear vision, good communication skills, and a relentless drive to implement change that will improve everyday work life. Teaching the lean concepts and tools are simple, driving organizational change is nearly impossible without a lean champion.

Companies who are in their infancy of their lean efforts have the most need for a champion to help them through the process. Seeking outside consultant assistance for training, coaching, and guidance in the development of the lean champion is a common approach to get started. Engaging with a lean expert will provide the classroom knowledge- base and also allow them to teach the champion how to successfully facilitate improvement projects. The most effective way this is accomplished is by hosting an organized event(s) under the guidance of a lean coach to allow the champion to gain practical lean experience within their own work environment. One very important point that is often overlooked by companies, who commit to the lean initiative and dedicate resources to spearhead their efforts, is that the champion alone cannot be successful by themselves. Success is accomplished through strong organizational commitment and unwavering support.

Craig Corsi is a Lean Specialist for Vie Associates

Craig Corsi is a Lean Specialist for Vie Associates, LLC. He is a manufacturing professional with more than 20 years of experience in the areas of operational excellence, supply chain and inventory management, and continuous improvement initiatives.

Side Note: NWIRC will offer Lean Champion Certification in Titusville on September 7, 14, 21, & 28. This program is eligible for the Make It In America Grant.