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Countermeasures in Lean

Countermeasures are the actions taken to reduce or eliminate the root causes of problems that are preventing you from reaching your goals. In many cases, this is a formal process for a company. A company does its strategic planning, which cascades down through the levels of an organization, creating targets, or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). When the organization is missing on one of its KPIs, its leaders should perform countermeasures to make sure they have a plan to get back on track.

Countermeasures are also done when a problem ‘pops up’. But I encourage you to look at what metric that problem links to. You’d be surprised how often these sorts of issues can be tied to company targets.

Countermeasuring should be done formally. I recommend using a standard template for the entire organization, as it provides an efficient form of communication. Anyone who knows the format can immediately understand what is happening anywhere in the organization. The A3 format is a common countermeasuring template.

At a minimum, the countermeasure should include: a summary of the organization’s performance toward the goal, a definition of the goal (including how the goal is measured), problem statement(s), a root cause analysis of each problem (with an understanding of how it contributes to the shortfall), and an action plan that includes: task, deadline, person responsible, impact on the goal.

Countermeasures should be maintained for as long as the team is missing on its goals. In many organizations, countermeasures are reported in periodic operations reviews.

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If you take the time to set goals (and you certainly should), then you should also invest the time to manage your business towards meeting those goals.

My observation is that people struggle when doing countermeasures. They look at countermeasures as a nuisance, and do them in the last few minutes before an operations review is scheduled. So instead of closely managing how they are doing improvement efforts, they use a certain amount of faith that improvement efforts are lining up with goals. When that faith is misguided, the gap between actual performance and the target doesn’t close. That means wasted effort.

Because the format is in Excel and is math intensive, many people do not have skills that are refined enough to put together a thorough analysis. They also get so wrapped up in fighting the daily fires that they have no time left to manage the business. In addition, managers want to make sure the operations review goes off well, so they do the countermeasures themselves. This prevents full by-in from their team, and also limits junior leaders’ development.

It takes a lot of practice and effort to really get good at this skill. As a leader, you have to stress to your team the importance of countermeasures. That means looking at the progress of improvement efforts with them more than once a month. It means providing training to them frequently, and coaching them on how to improve their countermeasuring skills. I recommend doing the coaching in private, as junior leaders and team members are not used to being scrutinized in public.

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