Lean mind-sets: Sell problems and ask solutions

Improof Input Output Management WS


One person that has inspired me doing Lean implementation work is Prof. Filip Vandendriessche and his work on managing people on Output (results or agreed goals) rather then Input (how to do the work).  If applied correctly, managing people on output drastically increases employee engagement with company goals.  Output management is a key aspect of a Lean culture.  It is the basis of effective multi-disciplinary teamwork.


Here is what we mean:

With “Input”, we refer to telling people explicitly how to do their work or which solutions to apply to a given problem.   When managing on Input we tend to ask for problems and give solutions or how-to guides.  Managing on input tends to generate conflict in day-to-day work as managers may not have the same understanding of the current situation or problems as their teams do.  As a consequence teams may disengage with the company goals.


With “Output” we refer to results or goals. For example, a result can be: “Try to produce 100% product quality on time during a production shift”.  An example of a goal can be: “reduce the number of lost time incidents with 20%” or “grow a customer sales volume by 50%”.  When managing on Output managers identify problems through observation or discussion.  They share them with their teams and ask solutions, improvements or results in return.  Apart from clarity on which result or goal to work to, teams managed on Output need direction, conditions and support.


“Problems generate consensus, solutions generate conflicts”


Through our work we see that management on Output reduces daily result pressure for managers, increases employee teamwork, energy, creativity and creates more time for a manager. This is turn allows managers to spend more time on addressing strategic issues.


How to get started?

Anybody can simply start by bringing colleagues together, define a problem together and allow the team to solve it within a pre-agreed goal and conditions.  Although this looks easy, the daily rush prevents many managers from freeing up time and resources to do this. Calling colleagues together in a room or on the shop floor is frequently seen as a loss in productivity. Nevertheless, our experience shows that it is worth it.


When you reflect on how you manage people, please don’t forget that making the shift takes time.  People need support and reassurance to get used to management on Output. Prof. Vandendriessche proposes a step-by-step approach:


  1. Identify the pain facts of the current situation
  2. Talk about the consequences of these pain facts
  3. Share what it does with you and the common goal you propose
  4. Give criteria to which solutions should comply


One manager once told me: “I really try to manage on Output but then the daily result is not ok and nobody acts on it, I cannot prevent myself to step in again”

Yes, the shift towards Output management takes time and patience.  It requires constant repetition, supporting, coaching, developing people as well as giving them the confidence to do it.  The longer people were used to management on Input, the longer it will take them to believe that you are serious about management on Output.  In a way being managed on Input also has its comforts. As an employee you have less final responsibility.


Output managers are still the exception rather than the rule. But those among us who do manage on Output get better results overall and go through work life happy!


Next week we’ll talk about –“How to build a common vision and goals”

By Christof Frenay, Managing Partner at Improof Solutions