Inside Look: Nationwide’s lean IT management (cont’d)

This edition of Think OpEx features a guest blogger: Tom Paider, an AVP and build capacity leader at COE member Nationwide Insurance. Paider, also a graduate of Fisher’s MBOE program, gives an inside look at the lean transformation that took place in Nationwide’s IT division.

In part one of my blog about Nationwide’s Lean IT Management system we discussed the needs for management to change during a lean transformation. That’s sometimes much easier said than done, so what were our steps in making this a reality?

When we first started our management system transformation in the Application Development Center we began with the definition of leader standard work, first attempting to understand the current state and then moving into a definition of the future state. Very quickly, we realized we had a problem: We couldn’t even agree on the current state of management processes, let alone how the future should look. Taking a step back we instead went through a brief lean 101 education for all our managers and defined champions for different aspects of the transformation such as visual management, coaching, sustainability, etc. With all the managers at least talking the same language we began again in earnest.

Nationwide visual management
Our first implementation of a visual system for management quickly was replaced with a more sophisticated model, but the act of just making things visual quickly allowed us to move forward. Getting hung up on making visuals perfect is a trap to avoid.

This time we didn’t start with leader standard work, opting instead for making the work of management visible. This proved to be a wise decision for us as it quickly eliminated the arguments about what current state looked like. Our first attempts were rudimentary but provided us the context we needed to move forward. Elements of the visual management system included an accountability board, transformation items, and any special assignments.

Once the work was visual we were quickly able to see all the waste in the system and create leader standard work that emphasized the value-adding activities that lean managers should do every day. Successive layers of standard work were created up and down the management chain that reinforced the desired behaviors through cadenced gemba walks, auditing mechanisms, and a focus on process excellence as a leading indicator instead of the typical focus on results.

This series of three stand-up meetings that occur daily allow very fast escalations as well as deployment of process improvements.

The next step for us in the transformation included a more robust accountability system. While leader standard work, including gemba walks and visual management, went a long way for us, there was still something missing. Following the patterns David Mann outlines in his book Creating a Lean Culture, we implemented a three tier accountability system. This consisted of three daily stand-up meetings all held at their respective visual management boards.

The implementation of the accountability processes ended what we considered to be phase one of our transformation. We still had a long way to go and lots of improvements to be made, but at this point we were all at least moving in a common direction and had an understanding of our true north. Our journey will never be complete, but with the basics of a lean management system we were finally able to truly support our associates in delivering ever higher value to our customers.

Inside look: Nationwide’s lean IT management

This edition of Think OpEx features a guest blogger: Tom Paider, an AVP and build capacity leader at COE member Nationwide Insurance. Paider, also a graduate of Fisher’s MBOE program, will give an inside look at the lean transformation that took place in Nationwide’s IT division.

You’ve probably heard talk about the need for management to change when undergoing a lean transformation. The principle is simple: How can we expect our staff to change if we as managers don’t change as well? While the principle is simple, the implementation of the principle isn’t so simple. Many managers believe they’re where they are because they know best how to direct their subordinates They believe their role is to assign tasks, monitor progress and assess performance.

Culture, Values and attitudes, What we do
Focus on what behaviors you want people to exhibit, then design processes around those behaviors. It’s much easier for people to act their way into thinking than think their way into acting.

How, then, do we transform these managers to a lean mindset focused on coaching, problem-solving and empowerment?

In my experience at Nationwide, this management transformation follows the same general pattern as staff in lean transformations: Changes to daily behavior used to change thinking over time. It follows the pattern outlined in John Shook’s MIT Sloan article “How to Change a Culture: Lessons from NUMMI”. Shook surmises it’s much more difficult for an organization to think its way into acting than to act its way into thinking. By approaching transformation from a daily behavior standpoint, the change is baked directly into the DNA of the organization and backslides are much less likely.

When we first deployed a lean framework to Nationwide’s Application Development Center, our managers were supporters but ultimately didn’t change the way they worked. This caused confusion within our teams as staff moved toward collaboration, empowerment and problem-solving while the management team still operated in a command-and-control hierarchical style. A management team that didn’t understand how to channel the enthusiasm of the staff quickly snuffed out the initiative of our associates.

So how did we do it? We put in place processes that reinforced the behaviors desired: A focus on coaching staff instead of directing them, building problem-solving muscle throughout the organization, and getting them out of their offices and to the gemba.  We focused on daily accountability through tiered standups, visual controls and visual workflow for the work of management, and leader standard work that governed the expected behaviors.

In a subsequent blog post, learn what each of these looked like and how we implemented them. Stay tuned…