Just like businesses and organisations come in all shapes and sizes, so too do consultants. Similarly, there are many definitions and expectations of the role of a Lean consultant. Many suggest that he or she is an expert who gives professional advice.
Your Lean Management Consultant or Coach should be an expert – an expert in Lean. But make no mistake, you and your people are the experts in your business. The people on your shop floor are your best experts.
The Lean Consultant’s role is to facilitate you as a business leader and your inhouse experts to fully harness this expertise. Their aim is to develop and embed a continuous improvement culture across your organisation, leading to innovation and improvement. To achieve this sustainable outcome, it is essential that both you and the consultant adopt a partnership approach to the process.
Not to be too cliched, Lean is a journey. Albeit with a difference, in that there is no final destination or end point where you declare you have arrived. Instead, it becomes a way of life, whereby new ways of thinking and doing are incorporated into everyday routines at all levels of your organisation.
Like any journey, embarking on a Lean journey with your Lean Mentor as a partner requires upfront preparation. The more thought and effort you put into this preparation the more successful and enjoyable your experience is likely to be.
At LeanTeams, we consider the stages of the process of engaging a Lean Partner to be:
- Selection Presentation/ Interview
There are many questions you need to ask yourself and the perspective consultant in this process. Here we share with you our thoughts on some of the questions that will assist you in making this decision.
Prior to engaging a Lean consultant, you need to take the time to do some self-assessment. We believe it is best to involve the core team of people you envisage will be stakeholders in your Lean programme. By engaging in this exercise, you are aiming to get clarity on what to look for in a coach, along with the content you need to write a briefing or proposal request document. This will give a consultant a fair shot at setting out their ‘best stall’, or maybe deciding this project isn’t suited to their skill base, which saves both parties time in the long run.
Take the time to ask yourself and your team the following questions. First individually, then collate and discuss together prior to deciding on the final brief.
Why are we thinking about engaging with a Lean Consultant now? What is it we want them to assist us with? Describe the problem we are trying to resolve as succinctly as possible. Einstein is reported as having said that if he had one hour to save the world, he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and five minutes on finding the solution.
What will success look and feel like for us and our organisations’ stakeholders? Resist the urge to include the solution in here, as this not only negates the principles of Lean, it also can limit the scope of the Consultants offering.
Do we have a budget or is there funding available? You may be eligible to access funding from Skillnet for training or from the IDA or Enterprise Ireland as part of their Operational Excellence programmes. Your consultant will be able to advise and support you in accessing this funding as appropriate.
What is their approach? Will they come in and do the work for us? Will they hand us a gap analysis and a road map? Neither of these documents will prove useful in the long term. The approach that will ensure you get the very best from this engagement is a lean expert who is keen to share their expertise. You need someone who is passionate about facilitating you and your people to develop your knowledge and skills. A consultant who encourages everyone in the business to take a step back, to observe, to challenge and ask questions. Why do we do it this way? How can we make this better? What solutions can we try and test out? How will we measure the impact of any changes?
Do they walk the talk? When you meet with them, whether in the actual or virtual meeting room, do they ask to see what we are doing, to get a real sense of who we are, our people and processes and our products?
How do they propose to support us to embed the Lean Mindset, thinking and practice, across your people? What you need to hear in this response is that the Consultant will spend time training and mentoring your people, in the classroom setting as well as in their workplace. They will share with your people the methodologies and tools that will support them to practically continue to solve problems long after the consultant has left the building.
Ask what is their expectations of our input and that of other leaders in the business? Remember on this journey, your input and presence will be required at various stages to ensure the long-term success. The consultant will need to have a lead point of contact.
Ask prospective consultants about their experience. Most Lean practitioners I know, use storytelling to illustrate and share examples of how various methodologies and tools have worked in the past. They love to tell stories of their experiences and successes, so they will be more than willing to share with you. Ask for specifics on the tangible benefits they have assisted other businesses to achieve.
Be sure to ask them to share the stories of their less successful projects and the lessons learned. Ask them to give you the names of referees, ideally in organisations of the same scale or with a similar challenge, as this is most likely to be your best comparator.
What is the cost? How long will it take? Be clear about the proposed costs of the programme and if it is time bound. Typically, consultants will quote a daily rate. It may make sense for you to at the outset to engage in a starter programme, beginning with the basics, possibly 7-10 days. This gives you an opportunity to review the impact and potential ROI before committing to a longer engagement.
In this stage, while you are focusing on the content and calibre of the candidates’ presentations, you are advised to put equal effort into evaluating the candidates’ more intangible characteristics. Like any partnership, selecting the consultant who is the ‘Right Fit’ for your organisation is vital and sets the programme up for success. Engaging with people across the organisation is a key role of the consultant in supporting you to embed a culture of continuous improvement. Like all hiring decisions at this stage, there is an element of trusting your ‘gut instinct’.
In deciding on this you need to ask yourself and your team further questions including:
Will they build a rapport with our people? The best way to judge this is to involve the people who are working at the coal face in the selection process. When your perspective consultant is touring your workplace, observe how they engage with the people, not only those in supervisory or management roles, but those who are doing the work, whether it is a manufacturing or a service task. Ask your own people for their views; never losing sight of the fact that they are your best experts.
Are they inspiring? Do you get the sense that they are passionate about Lean and can engage the hearts and minds of your workforce? Will they be able to assist you in getting everyone onto the Lean bus? In assessing this, consider can they articulate the principles of Lean using words that everyone will understand. Do they share examples and anecdotes that resonate with you and your team or is there too much jargon?
Are they enthusiastic and positive? Do you sense they will bring the can-do attitude that you and your people will need when their resilience is tested, when things take a step backwards or worse still fail entirely? How do they celebrate and recognise the successes and gains, big and small? Will they bring a bit of fun to the process?
To select the Lean partner most suited to your specific requirements there are lots of thoughtful questions to be asked at each stage of the selection process. By exploring key themes and questions with your own team and including them at each stage, you will have a much better idea of the qualities you are looking for in a consultant. As a result, this will help you to assess the strengths of prospective candidates against these criteria.
By asking candidates purposeful questions, you will gain the insights you need in relation to their Lean expertise and approach.
You may also be interested in reading about Mentoring for Success : 5 Benefits of Having a Good Mentor and 9 Signs your Business Processes are Broken. All our blogs are available to read here. Please connect with us on Linkedin and Twitter.