Lean Management System: Accountability’s Four Questions and Two Tools

Lean oriented questions tend to be straightforward, but not necessarily easy.

The same goes for the four basic questions around the daily accountability process – the process by which leaders facilitate effective follow-through. The follow-through that I am referring to is about the countermeasures necessary for what some refer to as (team-based):

  • Maintenance kaizen. Kaizen to bring a process back to standard, and
  • Improvement kaizen (redundantly named). Kaizen to elevate performance from a given standard.

To that kaizen-duo, we can add perhaps more mundane, but still important, countermeasures, and plain old action items, that help to appropriately drive awareness, communication, adherence, purchase a new right-sized cart, etc.

The four questions:

  1. What? Here the lean leader must capture a specific countermeasure (the what) that will address a particular problem’s root cause. To this question many folks very appropriately add a short problem statement (to which the countermeasure is being applied). This facilitates and demonstrates good problem-solving rigor and thinking. The “problem to be solved,” in the context of a lean management system, is typically identified during the application of the lean management system’s leader standard work (and the related audit of adherence to and sufficiency of the standard work), team-based tiered meetings and reflection, and andon response. If you say this sounds a bit too neat and tidy, you would be correct. It is darn difficult to accurately nail down a tight problem statement, identify root cause, and come up with an effective countermeasure in the span of a 10 minute daily tiered meeting (during which much of the time is allocated to other things). In fact, unless some quick 5 why activity can get the team there, the hard work of problem-solving is typically done off-line. This means that the captured “countermeasure,” more like an action item, may be for an individual or team to apply the necessary problem-solving rigor. In other words, sometimes it’s a plan for a plan. Know that the countermeasure or action item is not the sole brain-child of the lean leader, it’s usually developed with/by the team, as facilitated by the lean leader.
  2. Who? A countermeasure, no surprise, needs someone to execute it. Often it’s more than one person, but accountability is best served when there is one “belly-button.” The lean leader can record more than one who, but there must be a primary who!
  3. When? What good is a countermeasure or action item without a date certain? Clearly, not much. Many folks, unfortunately, are more than happy with an ambiguous due date. It’s an infinitely open loop.
  4. Status? Without a formal check to verify that assigned and agreed upon countermeasure have been completed, there is ZERO accountability and ZERO follow-through. Simply checking on completion is basic stuff. It is often appropriate to periodically check countermeasure status between assignment and completion, assessing execution status across the PDCA spectrum.

Admittedly, these are not the sexiest of questions. But, they are the bread and butter of the accountability process…along with the requisite lean leadership behaviors.

Once these questions are infused in the minds of lean leaders and team members, along with solid problem-solving skills, things get exciting. Folks get better at identifying problems, converging on problem-solving, and holding themselves and each other accountable.

And now the tools…

There are two basic tools to help in the accountability process. They are used primarily within the context of regular, typically daily, tiered team reflection meetings and help integrate the four questions within the “conversation.”

Each tool and its derivatives has pros and cons. None are perfect, but each are powerful.

  1. Countermeasure tracker form. This simple form records at least the following: 1) countermeasure number (nothing fancy – 1,2, 3, etc.) 2) the countermeasure (what), 3) who, 4) when, and 5) status. Some folks add a column in which to record the “problem to be solved.” The form is often hung on a tiered meeting metric board and are an active tool during the meeting as new countermeasures are recorded by the leader and old countermeasures are “statused” as part of the standard tiered meeting agenda. There are two basic ways the countermeasure tracker is used on a tier board: 1) one form for the entire board, or 2) one form for each of the metric categories (i.e., People, Quality, Delivery, Cost).
  2. Task accountability board. This board (sometimes paper) captures each assigned countermeasures/task on a single Post-It® note or card. The note/card, which also reflects the countermeasure due date, is then placed on the board in the row designated for the assigned tiered meeting member, intersecting the column which reflects the appropriate due date. See below for an example.

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Related posts: Tiered Meeting = Team Stand-up A3, Another Classic Lean Question – “Do You See What I See?”, 6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings, “So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question