How to decide on the right number of people for your lean event?

I received a question today that I thought would be helpful to everyone:

“Imagine you are getting ready to kick-off the value stream workshop and you start to receive emails from a bunch of different people in the organization asking to attend. What would be your response?”

Let’s make this a more generic question: How many people should we have in a lean event?

With most lean events, you are trying to balance the wide representation from different departments and job functions across the value stream (including customers and suppliers) with the size of the event team.

If you get too many people, it can be difficult to facilitate and get things done.

If you don’t have the right people involved, you will not come up with the best solutions or you will face resistance when you attempt to make improvements.

As a “rule of thumb” I usually invite 7-20 people for a value stream mapping event, and 5-12 people for a kaizen improvement event.

I would consider the following factors in deciding who to include in a lean event:

  • Why do they want to attend?: When people ask to attend an event (not part of the original attendee list), I seek to understand what they are concerned about specifically. If they have specific concerns, I try to capture their concerns via survey as stakeholder input, and share it with the team during the event. I also setup end of day report outs for leadership, and those that have concerns, but they don’t really need to be in the event all the time. These report outs make sure we aren’t getting too far off track with the event, and they help prepare management for the potential changes coming from the team.
  • Full-time or Expert?: If their input into the event is very specific or limited, consider adding them to the “expert on call” list when topics in their area come up. I like to have 5-10 people on that list. They come to the kickoff meeting, but don’t stay during the event unless we have questions for them. Then it’s a quick phone call or they show up for 15-30 minutes to talk about their area or give feedback on ideas.
  • Representation? Are they already being represented on the team? If a co-worker or subordinate is already on the team, they should decide who should attend. We don’t want some groups or departments outnumbering others and gaining an unfair advantage.
    I’ve also had people confused about their role in the past, especially if they have had different roles in the past. One person had worked in Engineering, but now was recently moved into Quality. They felt more comfortable talking about Engineering, but they were there to represent the customer and quality requirements. So make sure each participant knows which group they represent, and that they are speaking for that group, and should reach out to that group as needed before agreeing to ideas and solutions during the event.
  • Room Size?: Size of event space can be a huge concern. If you don’t have a comfortable space to move around, it can detract from the event outcomes and experience. Consider moving the space (can be tough to do last minute) or they’ll have to be included in one of the prior options (on call or report out only).
    Right now, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 virus, so most in-person events have been postponed, but you can still conduct improvement events with some modification. Virtual gemba walks, participant web cams and new facilitation techniques can help you achieve event outcomes, even if you can’t meet in person. It might even be easier to have people participate when you remove travel time and costs. Since room space is not a limitation, you can handle a few more people than you can in-person, but it still requires facilitation, so the number of people still needs to be managed.
  • Influencer?: If they are very knowledgeable about the processes, that makes them more likely to be added. If they are an influencer and can help with change management to help with the roll out of improvements, that’s another benefit to having them. However, I also like having outsiders with no experience involved to provide a new perspective.
  • Current Attendance?: Have you confirmed that everyone invited to the event is attending? If not, go back and verify. You might find that some cannot attend, and that might open up space for others. However, just because there is room doesn’t mean they should be invited (don’t want too many people).
  • Are they a good team member?: Not everyone works well in a lean event. Some people are too quiet and add little value. Others can be disruptive, not engaged, unwilling to change, talk over others or dominate the conversations. Don’t just select people because they are from a specific team, also consider their personality and willingness to work as a team to resolve the problems.
  • Availability?: Sometimes the best people are also the busiest. During an event, we need 100% attention and participation. It is disruptive to have people coming in and out of the event. I tell participants to act like you’re on vacation, delegate a backup person to fill in, and don’t tell their manager that it’s OK to pull you out of the meeting for “quick questions.” If they cannot agree to this, then they can be an “expert on call” but not a full-time attendee.
  • Facilitator experience?: If you have an experienced lean event facilitator, then you could handle more people. If the facilitator is less experienced, then I would stay on the lower end of the number of people, or have another facilitator added. It’s always nice to have at least 2 facilitators, but that can be a challenge logistically or financially to do that. When I work with clients on lean events, I play the role of the lead facilitator, but I have another person from the company as my co-facilitator, who helps with planning and it allows me a chance to mentor them into a future facilitator. I prefer the model below:
    • 1st event: I facilitate with client co-facilitator
    • 2nd event: We both facilitate (share responsibility)
    • 3rd event: Client facilitates and I am there for support as co-facilitator
    • 4th event: Client facilitates and I will be there if they want (optional). Most of my support is done during prep and review afterwards.

The bottom line is that there is no set number of people, it varies depending on many factors. It is also a balancing act, between getting wide representation to get all voices at the table, and being able to get things done during an event with tight agendas and high expectations.

I always go back to the deliverables for the event, as defined by the event sponsor and champion. Does this person help us achieve a successful long-term outcome for our efforts? If so, then let’s figure out how to include them. Always work with the event sponsor to work through these questions, and discuss the trade offs.

Did I forget something important? Please contact us to share your thoughts, ask further questions, or seek advice and recommendations. Good luck with your event!

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