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Extreme Ownership and Lean Management

by @reagan 3 Comments

I have been working my way through an audio version of “Extreme Ownership” written by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and I was surprised to see so many similarities with some of the fundaments of lean management. Initially, I was unsure how I would get on listening to the two hard core former Navy SEALs but I found myself enjoying the commute to work listening to these two.

From a Lean Leadership position there are a number of key principles covered.

Firstly, is the concept of leading from the bottom up. As I find myself repeating – “decisions need to be pushed down and taken from the lowest level possible” within the organisation. For this to work, your teams have to be aligned on the goals and you need a culture of continuous learning. As explained in the book, its impossible to manage individual decisions on a battlefield under intense pressure. Everyone needs to know how their role supports the overall mission and then given the freedom and the responsibility to take decisions as they see fit.

Within almost every business I have worked with decisions are continuously escalated with the decisions being taken further away from the people who actually know the answers and are closer to the actual work.

“But, in fact, discipline is the pathway to freedom” Jocko Willink

Secondly, there is a chapter that looks at how discipline drives freedom or as I would say structure drives creativity. While often seen as contradictory, the argument is that by having solid standard operating procedures that are well rehearsed, well practised and in everyones DNA, this gives the team freedom to be creative and do things differently as and when required.

From a Lean perspective, driving that standard work within all areas of the business is not about fixing things in place firmly forever, its about documenting the best way to do things today so we can improve tomorrow.

Standard work is often one of the hardest things to implement because people feel it restricts their input and challenges their knowledge which gives them value.

However, when following Lean Thinking – standard work is not restrictive, it does not curtail creativity – it does the opposite and sets is free. With standard work, we can adapt together, we can change and we can begin to improve.

Thirdly – more than any other daily routine which is required within a lean environment, the most important is the daily huddle, the shout, the start of shift meeting.

In Extreme Ownership they discuss that Post Mission Briefings are not something that happen time to time, at any time of the day or night.  Within the briefing they discuss what went right, what went wrong and how can we adapt our tactics to be more effective going forward.

Driving the culture of the daily huddle once again takes time to implement but the benefits are enormous. Rolling these out across organisations, I have learnt from the start to concentrate on the 3 Killer Questions.

3 Killer Questions

1 – What was the plan?
2 – How did we do against the plan?
3 – What could we do to improve?

These three questions, drive the team to not only understand what is required but also to continually look for ways to do things better.

I have to say, that having worked in organisations where a high number of managers are ex-military, I was skeptical but also intrigued to find out more.

While I would not be sure about reading the book, I would definitely recommend the audio book.

If you are interested, follow this link to buy “Extreme Ownership – How the U.S. Navy SEALs Lean and Win”

Join the discussion

3 Comments

  1. Just to add – Daniel Jones presented a great slide on this last week at the EU Lean Summit. https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6324603028599037953/

  2. I like the slide, and can guess at some of it, but since I didn’t go to that summit, I would like to know why you think that was a great slide. Tell us more!

    1. Hey Jason – I think the key message is the bottom up approach in the sense that too often, we sit, design a strategy and then try to figure out how we drive it into the business. It’s difficult, requires lots of effort and an element of timing, luck and chance to get the message right and at the right time. But the bottom up approach is much more around allowing people to find new solutions, new ways of working by being connected to an overall direction. Ideas from the ground have such a high chance of being successfully delivered because they are owned at the right level. Biggest challenge is how to frame the changes but not the actual change. It’s a great topic and think I have not done it justice, but very happy to discuss more.

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