Lean Crisis Leadership Combination

I believe there is a synergy between the two methodologies of Crisis Management and Lean Technology. I used Lean techniques for 26 years in the USAF, but we did not call it Lean. We also learned and practiced disaster preparedness skills. When I was in the Vietnam War and during peacetime, we applied a simplified methodology to shorten process cycle times, were held to a very high-quality standard, and still managed to not burn out the workers. Living and working through many different types of crisis requires that we have standardized work procedures and have the discipline to follow them. In a crisis, good leaders care about the welfare of the workers and the long-term survival of the organization.

My crucial career turning point came when I realized as the leader, if I take care of the people, the people will take care of the process. Adapting to the changing work environments and different customer demands take “creative idea generation” from Lean teams that are more than brainstorming. Meeting the strict standards of FDA, ISO, and other government regulatory bodies takes attention to details and discipline. All that we want to do today and hope to carry forward into the future, take excellent Leadership skills and the ability to be the “Leader of Change.”

Without Leaders at the top who make data-based decisions combined with empathy for the people they lead, I do not believe that many companies will combine Lean technology with crisis management. Those that do it successfully will last for a long time and become the industry leaders.

When we talk about Lean technology, there are some fundamental issues and tools that need to be blended to be successful, ie. Respect for people, long-term survival philosophy, thorough investigation, and “go-see” for problems followed by quick implementation of solutions, and elimination of wastes. These techniques are similar to the steps companies have taken during the current crisis to help society and stay in production.

In Lean technology, respect for people has two foundational principles; 1. Use your best people with different skills and expertise to work as a team to overcome a challenge. 2. Respect all people, from groups to individuals.

In crisis management situations; 1. Put your best people on your response team, not according to their position, but according to their abilities. 2. If the leader takes care of the people, the people will take care of the process, respect the idea that anyone can have an excellent solution to your crisis, no matter where it comes from.

In Lean technology, we want to eliminate waste and keep our inventory as low as possible. We want to add value by removing non-value added steps in a process.

In a crisis leadership position, we have to be resilient and use whatever resources we have on hand now and remove waste steps or bureaucratic procedures that don’t add value to a process.

In Lean technology, we want to have visual controls that keep everyone up-to-date always and need all tools and equipment kept clean and in specific locations using 5S techniques.

In crisis management, we need to make fast and critical decisions based on real-time (visual) data shared with everyone. And, if you have ever worked in a crisis situation, you understand it is essential for first responders to have all their tools and equipment clean and ready for use and stored in specific locations.


As you can see, there are many of the Lean technology practices that match well with crisis management. What about standardized work and following work instructions. First responders to crises don’t have time to explain to another worker what needs to be done. It has to be automatic and done as a team. Isn’t that what we try to establish in our regular production and service areas in normal conditions? Again, both technologies require discipline, and that comes from having good leadership that supports the workers. Lean technology and Crisis Management can work hand-in-hand if we remember to train the workers and the Leaders to prepare before a crisis occurs. Once the crisis has arrived, automatic adjustments should kick in and be changed to fit the temporary conditions, and then return to normal, or be better (improved), after the crisis is over. Most companies around the world do not see this connection and try to do many things differently during an emergency.


In the U.S.A., there was a critical shortage of Ventilation Respirators, and many hospitals desperately needed them. Engineers at Ford Motor Company wanted to help. They took a good quality respirator and tore it apart into pieces, and then wanted to build a similar one themselves. If they can design a complex car or truck, maybe they could design a ventilation respirator. Car production had stopped, and the engineers wanted to help. They asked engineers from 3M Corporation to join them as they were in the same state and close by. Within six days, they designed and tested a ventilation respirator, using parts that were already in their inventories at Ford and 3M and prepared to start making them in large quantities.

They had the engineers, they have mechanical assembly workers, and an F-150 Ford Truck driver’s seat ventilation fan that matched what they needed. They had flexible hoses and plastic engine fan shrouds. They had connecting hardware and wires. And they had leaders that put the right team together and then got out of their way to let them do what they do best, design and build, a good product.

Ford is not the only automotive company to help build ventilation respirators, and America is not the only country to help design and make things that were in desperate shortage to fight this crisis. From 3D modeling manufacturers to expensive clothing manufactures, from food producers to autonomous robot vehicle manufacturers, companies all over the world have been stepping up to help produce those items that we need to fight this crisis. I’m positive that after we are through this, there will be a long list of stories of companies and individuals innovating different products and services to help humanity.

For the companies that were already using Lean technology before the crisis, I hope you were able to adjust to new services and new products to help. For the crisis management teams, I hope you can see that many things you needed to do match well with the Lean technologies.


Very Lean and Ready for a Crisis


A few weeks ago, I published a short article on FB and LinkedIn about “Lean Crisis Management” because I have used both technologies for many types of crises I had to face. It takes an open mindset from a leader that leads by example to motivate his people to excel in the time of crisis. Many leaders will not admit that they have a crisis problem, even when they do not have a workable crisis preparedness plan. But, many of them will tell you that they are already using Lean technology, but it does not apply in a crisis mode.

Those companies that adopt a Lean Crisis Management attitude now will be far ahead of their competition when this crisis is over, and when the next crisis occurs. Remember two critical things if you want to be the successful “Leader of Change”; 1. If you take care of the people, the people will take care of the process and 2. As a leader, your attitude determines your altitude and success.

For more information about Lean Crisis Management implementation, contact Michael at mike@michaelwader.com.

Share this post with your colleagues...