Sunday, March 07, 2010

What is a Lean Advocate?

Hey Lean Advocates, do you ever struggle with how to explain to people what you do for work? Some people have well-recognized professions: lawyers, engineers, nurses, and so on. Unfortunately, most people I meet have never heard of Lean. This can make it hard for us Lean Advocates to validate our experience and describe our skill-sets.

Maybe it's just me, but there just seems to be a lot of unresolved questions about being a Lean Advocate. Here are a couple that come to mind...

What is the job description?

It's not the same thing as a Lean expert, because I know I'm not that. It's more about being passionate about Lean than being an expert. It's somebody who wants to achieve excellence in everything they do, using the principles, thought processes, and tools that have collectively become known as 'Lean.'

The problem that I've personally encountered in my career is translating my role as a Lean Advocate into the common vernacular of the business world. Am I a management consultant? Sometimes I guess. Am I a process engineer? Sometimes, but not really. Am I a project manager? Yes, oftentimes. What about trainer/coach? Oh yes.

So, I guess Lean Advocates are consultants, engineers, project managers, trainers, and coaches. As unrealistic as that seems, it's actually true from what I've seen.

What industry though?

Lean Advocate is one of those roles that really is not associated with a single industry. Does that mean we can move around from industry to industry? For example, lots of Lean Advocates come from manufacturing. I worked for a construction company for seven years. Am I disqualified from working in manufacturing because of my construction background? What about being a Lean Advocate in the burgeoning Lean Healthcare sector? Do the skills translate?

Many HR/recruiting folks might disagree, but I think Lean Advocate skills absolutely translate. Being able to communicate with people, facilitate collaboration, identify waste, increase customer value, scientifically solve problems, help relieve overburdening of employees, help create alignment throughout the organization, and foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement...where do these skills NOT translate?

How do we prove our value?

How do we avoid being considered non-essential? How do we show that we add value? I think we sometimes do a poor job of defining our value to our organizations. The most successful Lean Advocates I've known are not the smartest or most passionate ones, but the ones who connect improvement activities to business results. I believe this is sometimes referred to as...Show Me the Money!

Anybody interested in Lean Advocacy as a career choice will need to get really good at showing the money. If we can't consistently prove the value of Lean, we'll always be susceptible to cost-cutting. Lean Advocates are too talented and too passionate to be considered expendable.

Just as safety advocates proved that good safety saves money, quality advocates proved that quality is free, and sustainability advocates are currently demonstrating that being green makes business sense, us Lean Advocates must make the business case to the decision-makers...over and over again.

So, what is a Lean Advocate?

Everybody has their own definition, but I think the job description needs to be something like: "A person who harnesses and promotes Lean as a means to better tangible business results in pursuit of excellence." Is that too far off the mark?

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