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by Krista Antonowicz

Embarking on a Lean journey and integrating daily management into your organization is a formidable challenge. I had the opportunity to start my lean journey while in a leadership role in which I implemented daily management, and more recently worked as a practitioner and facilitator, teaching other leaders Lean. Having this unique experience has allowed me to intimately understand the hardships of implementation. As a leader who has personally navigated this path, I understand the struggles and barriers that can arise during implementation. In my role as a practitioner and facilitator, I have not only witnessed these challenges but have actively worked towards helping other leaders successfully adopt Lean principles. This article aims to shed light on the hurdles faced by front-line leaders and provide insights into overcoming these obstacles while emphasizing the transformative value of effective Lean execution. Some of the challenges, perceived or real, that I have heard from leaders are:

1. Time Constraints: One common challenge expressed by leaders is the perceived lack of time to incorporate Lean practices into their daily routines. Time is a precious resource, and the fear of adding another layer of tasks to an already busy schedule can be overwhelming.

2. Reluctance to Stop Problem Solving: Leaders often find it difficult to transition from a problem-solving mindset to a more strategic and proactive approach. Breaking the habit of constantly firefighting and addressing immediate issues can be challenging.

3. Navigating the "Hybrid World": Navigating the challenges becomes particularly demanding when the broader community has yet to embrace the new approach, and you find yourself in a pioneering position or a pilot demonstration area. In such scenarios, the organizational resistance tends to intensify, with the established immune system striving to counteract any advancements and diligently uphold the traditional status quo systems.

Addressing the Challenges

1. Time Management: How do I find the time to do this?

To overcome time constraints, leaders must prioritize tasks and delegate responsibilities effectively. Lean principles emphasize the elimination of non-value-added activities, allowing leaders to focus on high-impact tasks. Introduce short, focused daily huddles to streamline communication and address issues promptly, saving time in the long run.

As I begin each new training session, I often hear sentiments such as “There’s too much to do”, “I’m too busy”, “I’m solving problems all day”, and “It’s just one more thing”. Understandably, incorporating Lean practices often seems like an additional burden on top of their already demanding responsibilities. The perception is that daily huddles, leader standard work, and problem-solving are mere checkboxes, not integral components of their management system. The challenge lies in changing this mindset and helping leaders perceive these tools as assets rather than liabilities.

To shift this perspective, it's crucial to guide leaders through a series of reflective questions. What problems can these practices solve for them? How can these tools enhance communication and productivity? What interruptions do they frequently face during the day? By addressing these questions, leaders can start to view daily huddles, leader standard work, and problem-solving as instruments that provide clarity, direction, and efficiency, reducing confusion and interruptions.

During training sessions, I pose guiding questions to leaders, encouraging them to contemplate the information their teams need and what announcements are crucial for team awareness. Emphasizing the effectiveness of a daily huddle lasting 15 minutes or less, when executed correctly, is pivotal. This practice can streamline communication, resource allocation, and team alignment. Importantly, it can replace the flood of "FYI" emails, reducing the time spent addressing email-related questions and fostering a more engaged team. This has been a game changer for many and reflecting on if this email can wait until tomorrow’s huddle, the gain from getting the time back from the amount of time spent sending emails, responding to those questions, or addressing the team’s questions when they didn’t read the email could be saved by sharing this information in a huddle.

Additionally, as leaders become adept at running daily huddles, they may find a decline in the necessity for staff meetings. With daily huddles covering daily performance results and information sharing, leaders can repurpose the time saved for more strategic problem-solving sessions or other critical tasks.

Beyond daily huddles, embracing a leader’s standard work is vital for proactive leadership. Direct observation in the gemba, engaging with team members, and understanding their challenges firsthand are invaluable. This approach, as opposed to staying confined to an office and receiving feedback second or thirdhand, aligns with the principle that "there's no substitute for direct observation," as emphasized by my sensei.

Moreover, leader standard work provides visibility into performance indicators, supporting departmental goals. Regular discussions on these leading indicators during daily huddles ensure timely identification of problems. When falling short of standards, the team collaboratively addresses challenges, identifies, and rectifies poorly defined processes, or creates new and improved processes, monitoring progress in real-time. This proactive approach not only enhances performance but also fosters a culture of continuous improvement within the team and the organization as a whole.

2. Shifting the Problem-Solving Paradigm: How am I supposed to stop solving the problems?

Are leaders always the best person to fix it? Probably not, and this can be a tough pill to swallow. Encourage leaders to transition from reactive problem-solving to a proactive approach through Lean practices. Emphasize the importance of identifying root causes, implementing preventive measures, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. By doing so, leaders can break the cycle of firefighting and create sustainable solutions.

How do I break free from the cycle of solving all the problems? Many leaders have ingrained habits of being the go-to problem solver, assuming that they are the best-equipped to fix issues. However, this mindset can be counterproductive. In the early stages of my lean journey, a pivotal interaction with a team member challenged my problem-solving approach.

A nurse in my team used to approach me daily with various problems, seeking my solutions. Before embracing Lean practices, I fell into the trap of firefighting, dedicating an overwhelming amount of time to solving every problem that came my way. The turning point came when, alongside implementing daily huddles, I decided to stop solving problems for my team. Instead, I encouraged them to leverage their own knowledge and expertise to devise solutions. Approximately six weeks into this change, the nurse confronted me with a question that resonated deeply: "What is your job supposed to be if you're not fixing my problems?" It was a challenging inquiry that demanded thoughtful consideration. I admitted that I had been wrong in thinking I was the best person to solve their problems. I emphasized that, as a nurse, she was better positioned to devise solutions, and my role was to support and remove barriers rather than to be the sole problem solver.

Breaking free from the whirlwind of being the constant problem solver is difficult. It gives a sense of being needed and contributing to the team, but it ultimately hinders personal and team development. By relinquishing the role of primary problem solver, leaders can redirect their time towards improving the business and facilitating the growth of their team members.

The value of letting the team solve problems is highlighted in the book "Beyond Heroes," emphasizing that even if leaders "know" the answer, the team's investigation into root causes, application of tools, and development of their solutions holds greater value. Establishing a system for idea generation, such as incorporating an "improvement" section on daily huddle boards, can empower the team to submit their ideas for improvement.

In our case, we introduced "opportunity cards" where staff identified problems, explained their root causes, and proposed countermeasures. During the daily huddle, team members shared their ideas, and the group collectively assessed the impact and effort. If a solution seemed viable and quick to implement, it was encouraged with a collective "let's try it" approach. This not only promotes a culture of continuous improvement but also fosters a team of problem solvers, enhancing overall organizational resilience and adaptability.

3. Adapting to the "Hybrid World": The people around me aren’t doing it….

The challenge arises when the people around you are not embracing the Lean daily management practices. Despite being forewarned by my sensei about the complexities of navigating the hybrid world, the depth of that warning only became apparent when I found myself in the midst of it. The hybrid world is the space you occupy when you're committed to your Lean and daily management journey, but those around you – peers, superiors, or even your own department – are not on the same page. This situation leaves you juggling between two management styles: the traditional and the new modern Lean approach.

Challenges in the hybrid world manifest in various ways, ranging from resistance to change and lack of employee engagement to insufficient leadership support. Making leadership changes while those around you resist or criticize your efforts is undeniably challenging. The pressure to revert to the familiar traditional management style may come from superiors or colleagues, but it's crucial to stay the course.

To navigate this complex landscape, adhere rigorously to your leader standard work. Set clear targets for yourself, block dedicated time on your calendar as “No Meeting Zones”, and make these targets visible to your team. If challenges prevent you from following your leader standard work, track the reasons to conduct a thorough root cause analysis. Embracing change is a process, not a quick fix, and it requires persistence. The cultural shift won't happen overnight, and employees may take time to engage fully in the process.

Depending on the prevailing culture, employees may be accustomed to feeling unheard or undervalued. Encouraging them to participate in problem-solving might require patience and persistent efforts to solicit their input. Inadequate leadership support can compound the challenges of the hybrid world, especially if leaders at the top view these changes as something the team needs to undergo without adapting themselves. Some leaders may struggle with the shift towards empowering team members to drive change and solve problems. In these situations, it becomes imperative to communicate the long-term benefits of Lean principles and practices and demonstrate how this cultural shift can lead to a more engaged, empowered, and innovative workforce.

In conclusion, the implementation of Lean principles and daily management is a nuanced journey, far from a one-size-fits-all solution. It involves understanding and addressing the unique pain points within each organization, department, or team. I firmly believe that the key to success lies in helping leaders discover the value in this transformative change and guiding them through their individual journeys.

Being a reliable partner to leaders during this process is pivotal. Serving as a sounding board, asking probing questions, and aiding leaders in identifying their specific needs can be the linchpin to a successful transformation. Recognizing that Lean implementation is not a uniform process, meeting leaders where they currently stand and assisting them in transitioning their management style is paramount.

The importance of providing purpose and answering the "why" behind these changes cannot be overstated. Understanding how these practices will benefit leaders, their teams, and the overall organization can supply the motivation needed to persist when challenges arise. In essence, tailoring the approach to each leader's context and needs, and helping them navigate the journey, contributes significantly to the overall success of the Lean transformation. By recognizing the uniqueness of each organization's challenges and partnering with leaders at every step, we pave the way for a more effective and enduring Lean implementation.


Barnas, K., & Adams, E. (2016). Beyond heroes: A Lean Management System for Healthcare. Catalysis.


With over 18 years of healthcare expertise, Krista Antonowicz has held diverse leadership roles in her career. Presently, she is a Lean Facilitator at Nuvance Health and oversees their Lean Office. She also serves as an Instructor for Lean Leadership and Lean Six Sigma Certification courses at the University of California: Davis. Krista holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Southern New Hampshire University and is an active participant in Dr. Saleh’s Leadership and Organization Bootcamp. She is currently pursuing her MBA with a concentration in operational excellence at Utah State University.

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