“Aren’t Managers a Waste?”

I was discussing Lean with one of our members who had recently started to train their customer service team. The customer had just finished our series on visual managementent and was curious, why not just eliminate managers all together?

The Role of a Manager

It all depends on what the role the manager fills in your organization. The traditional image of a middle manager, exemplified in the movie “Office Space”, is an older employee who wanders around and tells other people what to do. It is all top down communication, the manager directs each employee when and how to carry out their tasks.


In a Lean system, employees use visual management to communicate their tasks to each other and self-manage. There is no need for someone to go around and tell people what to do, with the transparency of Lean, they already know what needs to be done.

So what happens to managers in a Lean system? Simple, their role changes.

The Mentor and Team Player

Instead of directing people, a Lean manager becomes more of a coach, stepping in to assist with a difficult task or providing additional training to round out your team’s skill matrix. By being on the shopfloor or front lines, the manager can nurture struggling employees and help facilitate the Kaizen process when problems are encountered.

Instead of being “above” the workers, the manager moves into a support position; filling in for sick employees, providing additional assistance to meet a deadline and keeping an eye out for the big picture.

In other words, a Lean manager is the ultimate team player.

Changing Culture of Management

By changing the role of a manager, you can drastically improve the workplace culture. By shifting their duties to supporting others, you can reduce the “us versus them” conflict that can plague workers and management. Instead, employees can see management as truly committed to helping them do their jobs, instead of telling them how to do their jobs.

So are managers a waste? Not necessarily. If you accept the new roles and responsibilities as a Lean manager, you will never become a waste.

May 11, 2015

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