LEAN, How to begin? What to do?

We recently hosted another very successful 2-day Lean training session last week and again, leaders from across the US and Canada have asked the same question of us after witnessing the continually improving Henry Ford Production System.

How do I begin and what do I need to do to make Lean succeed in my own environment to achieve the same results?

Prompted by the interactions of last week, I have reflected on this again and thought I would share my personal learnings from these past 5 years. As you know, we begin our 2-day training course by speaking about leadership and creating structures to establish and sustain culture and then end the course with a focus on leadership in a panel discussion with experiences related by leaders who actively practice Lean management.

Here is how I see the requirements to transform to an effective PDCA-based culture of continuous process improvement, with my apologies to Dr. Deming. The following steps reflect our journey to a successful Lean culture.

  • Upper leadership and mid level management must agree on and drive the following elements. This is the new Job #1 for leaders.
  • There must be one culture, one incentivized way of doing things. If there are too many models, silos are perpetuated and workers doubt the sincerity of the change. Confusion results and workers, unsure of what is expected, will continually seek clarity about the direction. This lack of cultural coherence results in the conclusion that they are experiencing yet again another management fad that can be dodged or outlasted. This is leadership failure. Welcome to Dr. Liker's 90% of places that tried Lean and failed!
  • Leaders and managers must adopt the basic principles of management that allow the process improvement model to work effectively across individual work units and across business units in a horizontal manner as the work flows. A spirit of selfless collaboration with the sense that we are all on the same team enables the breakdown of silos of control to achieve true horizontal management. Again incentives, often economic, must be realigned for the new behavior to become reality and this must come from top management.
  • Leaders must adopt their new role to continually work on the 'system of work', push the change with their direct reports and workers and by doing this, live by the new culture. Absent buy-in to steps #1, #2, #3 and #4, the remaining points below are not sustainable. Stop now. You're into lip service.
  • Structures must be established to teach and adopt standard work rules that minimize variation by promoting standardization of activities, connections, pathways to improve the work and allow empowered workers to implement PDCA-based process improvements within their established teams.
  • Structures must be established to teach and adopt process improvement tools aimed at the chief enemies of quality- namely variation, defects and waste. Eventually, sufficient efficiencies will be achieved in workflow smoothing, work simplification and just-in-time approaches to work with a continual focus on metrics to inform reduction of variation and defects that will result in increased productivity, throughput, timeliness, and customer satisfaction through decreased rework and cost.
  • Organizational structures must be created to sustain the above and recognize the value of the engaged worker, their effective, collaborative teams and their leaders.

As other Lean management gurus have said before and I have related to you in numerous previous communications, Lean success does not result from merely training in the process improvement tools, it is founded in culture and the empowered worker! This is a management system.

Success starts and ends with leadership. Do you have what it takes to succeed?