As I stated in an earlier article, in our industry it's common for middle managers to come up through the ranks. The selection criteria for a middle manager are based more on past performance on the line than on education and previous leadership experience. Middle managers do know how to get the work done. But, do they know how to actively engage and mobilize others to evaluate and improve the way that work gets done? As your lean initiative moves forward, this question will become increasingly important.

Aside from eliciting support for the lean initiative from leaders throughout the organization, breaking the task-manager mold may be the most difficult cultural shift the lean champion will encounter along the lean journey. Task management isn't necessarily a bad management style, but if that's the only way a manager knows to engage the staff, he or she will find it difficult to transition to lean.

Unfortunately for many middle managers, it may be the only management style they have been exposed to. If it seems to have served them well over the years, it will be even more challenging for them to change. As a lean champion, you may find two distinctively different types of middle managers. One represents employees with 30 to 40 years' seniority, while the other represents the younger generation of employee, eager to learn, aware of their lack of seniority, and intent on winning approval from peers and subordinates.

Building a team

I recently had the opportunity to observe these two different groups interacting outside of the work environment in an experiential, team-building session. Even though these managers had been working for the same company for a couple of years to as long as 30 years, sharing the same responsibilities, getting similar guidance and direction from the boss and attending the same informational meetings, they had never really worked together.

The session included a mix of small group activities that challenged the innovative and creative intellect of each participant while requiring each person to rely on the others in his group in the development and execution of a plan to meet each objective. A debriefing followed each challenge so team members could share lessons learned and discuss how the experience might apply to work situations.

The transformation that took place in this group of 20-somethings to 50-somethings was amazing. In one day they went from a group of people who just happen to be sharing the same space inside four walls of a plant to a team focused on achieving any objective the future requires of them through collaboration and mutual support.

The team decided to continue the relationship development process by getting together once a week in a brown-bag session. The most important lesson the supervisors learned that day, however, was the dynamics of the team process.

Team dynamics

As you know, lean is a team-based philosophy, so understanding and applying the dynamics of a team is paramount to a successful journey. Transferring the understanding they gained during the experiential session to daily activity at the plant in a way that actively engaged their staff members was the biggest challenge facing the supervisors.

To ensure successful engagement, we selected a number of small, but important, projects that would create an opportunity for collaboration and problem solving at the staff level. Before launching into those opportunities, though, we needed to provide the supervisors with another very important tool. We call it the Tactical Operation Plan TOP.

The Tactical Operation Plan was adapted from the military's Operations Order planning process. An OPORD is a five-paragraph document that details all of the information necessary for a subordinate unit to plan and execute a mission. This planning process has been successful in the military for years, so why wouldn't it be successful in business project planning?

The five paragraphs

Current Situation: The project sponsor reviews business history leading to the decision to select this project for a team activity. It also summarizes what is going to take place, why and when it has to be completed.

Mission or Task: The sponsor details the project.

Intent: The sponsor adds personal information pertaining to the project, such as why he or she has selected this project, the results he or she expects the company to derive, and the circumstances under which the project is to be executed.

Implementation: The sponsor will provide specific information important to the planning and execution of the project by the project leader or person(s) receiving the Tactical Operation Plan. The sponsor refrains from telling the leader how to execute while providing details on what to execute and a timeline for milestone reporting and/or final completion.

Support: The sponsor indicates the support that has been designated for the project, as well as any additional resources to augment the project team for special phases or situations that may arise.

Communication and Leadership: Details on how the project leader will keep the sponsor and other managers informed of the progress or obstacles as the project develops. The project leadership is clearly defined as well, so there is no misunderstanding of responsibilities.

Importance of TOP

What purpose does the TOP serve and why is it so important for a successful lean journey? If the sponsor of a project or activity doesn't clearly define expectations and desired outcomes, he or she will have to settle for whatever results are achieved by the person or group assigned to the task. If the person or the group assigned the task isn't aware of the expectations or desired outcomes, the results may be far short of what the sponsor had in mind.

Also, how will the person or group know when they've completed the task if there is no timeline established? The philosophies of "just do it" or "get 'er done" will not deliver world-class results the Tactical Operation Plan will.

In the next article I will share results from some world-class plans. In the meantime, if you would like to see samples of Tactical Operation Plans for real world activities, you can contact me at or through our Web site at

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