TOPIC: GUERILLA LEAN MANAGEMENT IN OPERATIONS
Submitted by: Vancheesh H, Section A, No. 11157 Date: 08-Nov-2012
An overview of Lean Management
LEAN is a term which is familiar to everyone working in operations – be it manufacturing,
supply chain, materials management, logistics etc. Lean Management is an important element of
Lean concepts. The main difference between traditional management and lean management is
that the former is result oriented while the other is process oriented. Lean assumes that any
activity or expenditure which does not result in value generation to the customer is a waste and
hence has to be eliminated. The process is developed and maintained such that it gives maximum
value to the customer. It is a management philosophy derived from Toyota Production System
and came to be called as „Lean‟ only later in the 1990’s.
How Lean principles are applied in organizations?
As we can see in the case of Toyota Production Systems (TPS), the lean principles were initiated
from the top level management and were applied to the lower levels. It can be summarized in the
1. The senior management discusses and agrees on the lean vision, identify the project
leaders and objectives
2. Communicate the vision and plan to the workforce
3. Form the implementation team from volunteers
4. Train the team on various lean tools and practices
5. Test the implementation on a pilot project and run it for 2-3 months
6. Evaluate the results and ask for feedback from everyone
7. Find out the positive results and ask supervisors to implement the new standards
8. Once it becomes a habitual program, go for the next lean tool. Select the one that gives
maximum returns to business
Does top management always support lean?
The traditional process of Lean implementation shows that there is involvement of the
management and the workforce from all levels. Hence, support from the leadership of the
organization is very essential for the successful implementation of a lean system. However, in
any manufacturing industry, many companies do not risk to be the front runners to implement a
change in the system. This happens mainly because most of the CEOs in organizations come
from finance, marketing or sales background hence they will not consider manufacturing as their
strong suit. Operations come as a concern only when the quality is low or the costs are high.
Under such cases where lean principles cannot be enforced from the top level, middle
management step up and take a lead – by becoming Guerilla managers.
The essence of Guerilla Lean Management
“By laying the proper groundwork and working effectively with their peer group, middle
managers can gradually implement lean practices and make big operational improvements
without leadership from the top”
– „Guerrilla Lean: Leading a Lean initiative from below‟, CSCPM Supply Chain Quarterly
Change is driven in an organization only when a crisis happens. Very rarely, when top
management can foresee crisis, they will adopt to change but in most cases, people do not come
out of their comfort zone and hence resist change. When the top management is not willing to
adopt change, it serves as an opportunity for the middle level managers to lead from below. For
change to occur, three factors must come together – vision, need and ability. If an organization
does not feel the need for a change, there will be no change. If there is no vision, then they will
not know what is to be changed. And if there is no ability to make improvements that will sustain
for a long period of time, there will be no change.
Supply chain managers may recognize a future crisis and feel the need for a change, but since
their concerns are closely related to operations they should be able to convince the management
and also have a clear understanding on what the change can achieve. It becomes more difficult
when manufacturing is involved. When one or more of the three factors is missing in the top
level, the middle management can take up the initiative by implementing Guerilla Lean.
Unlike traditional system, where the managers have authority and resources to implement
change, guerilla managers have very few resources, operate under constant scrutiny and work
within a loose chain of command. It is possible for a guerilla manager to implement Lean in the
supply chain with silent support from the top management but without any top management
leadership and hardly any investment required. But at the same time, since top management
leadership is missing, the middle manager takes a big risk and is required to work carefully
within the system.
Some situations where Guerilla Lean can be used
When the organization is undergoing reorganization in leadership or facing layoffs,
losing customers or cancelling projects.
Product development managers do not have sufficient experience in the field yet try to
impose their limited knowledge and ideas in the organization.
Leaders do not get involved directly in operations and do not listen to people about issues
in process, tools and systems.
Top managers insist on using outdated management methods or tools that do not fit the
Steps to implement Guerilla Lean
There are certain specific steps to be followed in order to implement lean. Firstly, you must gain
credibility as a leader by self improvement. Second, you must create an awareness and respect
for the power equation in the organization. Third, you need to find out like-minded individuals in
the organization and get their support to carry the initiative forward. Finally, you can implement
the lean practices within your authority and influence. The effort can be copied to other
departments, spreading throughout the entire organization and moving the company towards
implementing a lean culture.
1. Establish credibility as a leader
If a person wants to be a leader, others must have a reason to follow him. For top level
managers, it is easy to drive change since they have the positional power to get
employees to follow their orders. A middle level manager on the other hand has to rely
on his skills and abilities to persuade and influence others. For a middle level manager to
take the lead he needs personal drive and attitude along with strong communication skills
but they may not have it inherently in them. They should shed the fear of public speaking
and develop skills by joining public speaking programs. They should also learn to plan
and prepare for presentations. They should also utilize every opportunity to teach others
since it will help them to become more confident and also learn better. It is not enough to
be persuasive the manager should also be sure about what he is talking about. Managers
must possess strong technical skills such as expertise in Six Sigma, Quality Management
and Lean concepts and a deep understanding of manufacturing and supply chain
management. They also need to be well aware of general management concepts and
current terms in management. Reading articles related to leadership and management will
be helpful in this regard. Being thorough in accounting will be useful, since accounting is
the language of business and helps in understanding the cost drivers of the company and
understand how to make money from business. If you show that the initiative reduces
cost and increases profit, it is the best way to get support for your ideas at any level in the
2. Respect the existing power structure
If you need to get support for your initiative from the superiors, the first step is to
convince and manage your immediate boss. There are two important requirements to
The first is to align your agenda with that of your boss and also the organization as a
whole. The manager’s agenda has to be fulfilled first before yours. For example, if the
boss is critical about meeting a deadline or solving an important problem, they you
should meet that first. If you have to implement a visual mistake proofing system but the
boss is concerned about cost reduction and staying within budget, then you need to
convince him that the your initiative supports his goals. If the boss feels that he is
successful, he will grant more resources to his subordinates. Another thing which you can
do is to identify the gaps of the manager and try to subordinate them. Some managers
might be poor communicators while others may lack technical skills. As a subordinate,
you can always fill those gaps and be sure to establish your objectives about your
contributions and then move forward with your agenda.
The second requirement is to regularly update your boss about the work he has assigned
to you supported with accurate data and information. Managers can be kept in loop by
giving weekly formal updates but also through informal daily chats regarding numbers.
Communications should be brief and to the point, focus on data and use charts and graphs
to represent them visually for easy understanding. The weekly updates should lay out
major milestones, should follow the same format and maintain continuity. Do not send
information to higher ups without the consent of the immediate boss. The reporting
system also helps a secondary purpose that it helps you to form a management agenda. In
addition to the information of the projects assigned to you, the reports should also contain
a brief mention of your lean initiatives and how it helps in improving operations. Doing
so will keep the boss informed and can help to gain more support. In the absence of an
intervention from the boss, it is a silent approval of your lean initiatives and a signal to
lead and grow ahead.
3. Rally the troops
Successful operation depends on how the team works together and for a middle level
manager you need to build a team of like-minded people who will support the initiatives.
These are people who are most respected at work for their skills and not for their
position. They will include a mix of formal and informal leaders. Even people who are
negative minded can be converted and used in a meaningful way. Once you have
identified the co-workers who want to be involved in the Guerilla lean effort, establish a
common language with them and identify the issues and the opportunities at hand.
Teaching them about lean manufacturing during leisure hours or off time will accelerate
the progress. When the group has a common understanding of lean principles and zero
down on a common objective, you are ready to move forward with a kaizen. The group
evaluates the process in terms of value added and non value added activities and then
focuses on eliminating the latter. Repeating the process a number of times yields
continuous improvement which will benefit the organization. The traditional way to start
kaizen is through value stream mapping (VSM). Under this, you have to visualize and
document the current process and create a current state map. After identifying and
eliminating the non value added activities, you form an ideal process flow called future
state map. The team has to strive to achieve this future state. The VSM should consider
the entire operations of the company even if it falls outside the control of the guerilla
team. This is because the effect of the initiatives on the entire organization should be
considered and also the lean system should be in sync with the company’s philosophy.
4. Move forward
When everyone in the team has agreed on the objectives, it is the time to implement the
lean management principles in the operations. This can apply to manufacturing, supply
chain, logistics and even office management. Kaizen efforts should be selected carefully
since they are visible and hence need to get the support of the management as well as the
peers. Start with areas which you have greater control and create visible gains which will
create a buzz in the organization. An easy initiative to start with is the 5S (Sort, Set in
order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) that is conducive to lean production. A simple model
can be applied called the Four Drivers of Lean Manufacturing. Implementing these 4
drivers will quickly simplify operations.
a. Workplace Organization
This ensures that each worker has a clean and safe work environment equipped with
all tools, machines and materials required to perform an operation. Avoid clutter or
unnecessary items from the work station.
b. Uninterrupted flow
This minimizes interruption and shop floor inventory. Ample number of equipments
is placed to ensure constant production flow and minimize bottlenecks.
c. Quality at source or error free processing
This ensures quality in every operation and eliminates unnecessary rework. One way
to implement it is poka yoke or mistake proofing throughout the plant.
d. Single minute exchange of die
The quick changeover of equipment ensures flexibility in manufacturing so that
products can be made in any quantity and in any combination.
Achieving early success in lean has several benefits. They will ensure subsequent
changes in your area of influence. This will also help to bring more people into the team.
Once the buzz is created, areas which have not tried it out in the organization will start
5. Spread the word
Even though guerilla lean starts under the area of influence of a middle level manager, it
should be understandable to other departments and managers so that they can implement
it in their own areas. Ultimately, the top management will be encouraged lean thinking
and help the company to adopt a lean culture.
Color and visual management systems used in lean manufacturing will not only help in
organizing the tasks but also kelps in spreading the effort. People can visually
understand the good it is doing and spark their interest. Also, the accountants have to be
kept informed since they have access to higher levels of the organization. If guerilla lean
leads to inventory reduction and cost savings/ increased cash flow, they will support the
initiatives and also provide investment for additional efforts. Since effective lean supply
chain starts with sales and marketing, you need to work backward through
manufacturing, materials and suppliers and make them part of the change. It is difficult to
get the top management in leading the effort. The leadership and communication skills
along with the passion for the drive to change will help in effectively communicating it to
all levels of the organization and getting their support.
Do & Don‟t for success of Guerilla initiatives
Set reasonable and attainable goals Expecting wide acceptance for your initiatives
Focus on problems right in front and under
your control your
Trying to solve problems that involves many
Share the source of ideas with the team Sharing details of lean with uninterested people
Experiment visual changes and use standard
Expecting everything to succeed without
criticism or resistance
Get all stakeholders in sync about any changes Rushing to a solution without proper problem
Learn to ask good questions Expecting to win stakeholders with logic alone
“Soft Targets” for implementation
The success of Guerilla lean depends on finding the right areas and taking advantage of them.
Following are some areas which has led to better outcomes for individuals as well as teams and
sometimes the entire organization:
Communication mechanisms: email, websites, team meetings etc.
Checklists, documentation templates and approval processes
Personal workflow management: email, reminders, voice mailbox, time management
Team workflow: activities, dependencies, status updates
Shared spaces: equipment maintenance, facility setups, safety training
Guerilla lean starts with individual using lean ideas to solve problems in front of him
without drawing the attention of others to the use of lean ideas.
Guerilla lean is an alternative to middle level managers in organizations with weak or
resistant leaders who give more importance to immediate problems.
Guerilla lean does not produce drastic changes, but it makes individuals more effective.