As I wrap up another lean thinking training course in Western Australia I did my normal close out by reinforcing some key behaviours. It’s these five behaviours that separate the really capable leaders of improvement from the pack.

Truth is to develop these requires time and feedback because in most cases they are contrary to the behaviours driven by what you’ve learned in school and working for people in business.

While this article might not cause you to change, it will at least get you thinking about a potentially value adding behaviour change.

#1 – Observe, Don’t Solve

The most important self observation that people make during our training is their natural tendency to see flaws in what they do in the ‘simulated production’ we engage them in, and to immediately think about ways to improve what they do.

Unfortunately this contributes to one of the worst things about business improvement, and that’s improvement that occurs in isolation of the rest of the value stream. Fixing things in little silos creates instability and in many cases produces an isolated improvement in one location that erodes value in other areas.

A great business improvement leader is a good observer who simply notices waste, inefficiencies and non value adding activity; albeit without trying to come up with solutions in the first instance.

#2 – Pre-measure

Before kicking off a project, go out and take a look at the process in action. Most importantly, while you’re there collect data and record your observations of what actually happens.

Done properly, this pre-measuring as I like to call it, sets you up in a number of important ways:

  • You can get a sense of how you will approach the project from beginning to end, (I.e. which tools will probably help most) which means you can plan it properly
  • You will have accurate and untainted time, motion and behaviour data before that first team meeting
  • You know what activities actually take place which means you can ask the right questions to extract from a team exactly what they do in flowchart form
  • You’ve observed waste and inefficiencies as they actually occur in that workplace

#3 – Primarily Focus on WHERE to improve, not HOW to improve

Before you think about how to improve, first focus on where improvements need to be made to add value.

The natural tendency of every student is to immediately jump to solutions. They do this because they’re intelligent, great at problem solving, and have been conditioned to “bring solutions, not problems” to the table.

One who is a good observer will be more inclined to identify where to improve rather than how to improve.

#4 – Be Guided by Takt Chart and Flowcharts

When working on a lean project, two core tools set you up to focus on the right things.

The flowchart, developed properly, identifies where non value adding work exists and how much time is spent on it.

The Takt Charts pull it all together and guide your focus on all of the right things to give attention to. It solves the ‘where’ to improve question first and guides you to have the most effective improvement strategy.

#5 – Explore Many Potential Solutions, Not One Obvious [to you] Solution

Now that we’ve guided our attention to the right things to work on, we can finally focus on the ‘how’ to improve.

Unfortunately smart people have a tendency to jump to the first good idea that comes to mind and then fall into the trap of analysing the hell out of it.

We want to pull the brain away from that “let’s do this” thought, to a “what ways might potentially solve this” thought.

More importantly, when facilitating a group of people, notice their tendency to jump to that first obvious solution. You need to manage that carefully.



The content here is drawn from George Lee Sye’s publication titled People Leadership Growth. It provides a clue to the psychology and culture that underpins business success in any industry and gives rise to the success of any Lean Six Sigma based improvement strategy. For more information about where to get this book, visit

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