#4 – Can You Avoid Lean Failure?

Pied Piper with Children

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We are looking at the top 10 Lean Leadership blogs of 2011. After two contributions by guest bloggers, Mark Hamel and Tim McMahon we are moving on to a post created to answer a reader’s question.  Here it is:

A reader asked a great question in response to a recent Lean Leadership Blog post at the Consumer Goods Club.  His question was in essence how do you keep Lean initiatives moving ahead and not going the way of another flavor of the month program.  We have all seen managers with the best intentions launch new initiatives that were supposed to be the wave of the future only to see them fizzle out after a few weeks or months.  Lean initiatives are no different.  Many organizations have tried Lean and either abandon it completely or don’t take it very far.  So what makes the difference between companies that tried Lean and those that are leading the pack?

A successful launch of Lean is in some respects like getting lean with one’s weight.  There are no quick fixes.  There are no easy solutions and it takes work.  You cannot make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight then go back to your old habits after a few weeks or months and expect to stay Lean. It takes discipline over the long haul.

Successful Lean organizations will have several characteristics:

  • First and foremost, organizations embarking on a Lean transformation must have someone who is passionately committed to the process and can keep others on board. According to Industry Week Magazine, 70% of all organizational change initiatives fail because there is a lack of lasting commitment.  With this in mind, the higher in the organization this committed leader is, the better.  This Lean leader must be someone who has the authority to set direction for the long-term.
  • There also needs to be accountability up and down the chain of command.  Lean will need to bring results if it is to survive.  I doubt it will work if it’s not part of everyone’s annual goals and bonuses.  Your company needs a way to keep Lean on the radar.
  • Thirdly, these organizations need to have a core group that truly thinks Lean.  This group can be developed over time while on the Lean journey.  Lean is a way of thinking and not just a box of tools.  The journey is more than learning the tools.  It is a culture change.  Your organization will fall into the Lean toolbox mentality without a core group of people who can keep reminding everyone that it’s a process.
  • Successful Lean organizations have a culture of employee engagement. This culture will need to be quickly cultivated if it is not already there.  The average line operator will need to see how Lean benefits them.
  • Finally, there needs to be structure to facilitate and support the process.

This has certainly been an important topic in recent years and is very relevant today.  You can find many references to what causes Lean to fail and what is required for success.  There are many discussions in several LinkedIn groups, blogs, and books documenting successful Lean organizations.  The successful organizations are the ones who are willing to invest for the long-term.  Which describes your organization?  Does your team keep an eye on the long-term goals even when dealing with today’s issues or do they drop everything for the weekly or even daily crisis?  Is your organization ready for Lean?

Best regards,

Chris Paulsen
Lean Leadership Blog
Written for http://www.consumergoodsclub.com

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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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3 Responses to #4 – Can You Avoid Lean Failure?

  1. dieta says:

    There have been recent attempts to link Lean to Service Management, perhaps one of the most recent and spectacular of which was London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5. This particular case provides a graphic example of how care should be taken in translating successful practices from one context (production) to another (services), expecting the same results. In this case the public perception is more of a spectacular failure, than a spectacular success, resulting in potentially an unfair tainting of the lean manufacturing philosophies.

  2. Redge says:

    Hi Christian, seems like we’re on the same page. I linked to this post from my most recent blog as it reinforces the content I am also conveying.

    I understand that the percentage of companies that fail in their lean initiatives is as high as 80%. Apathy is sure to set in if the top leadership of the company is not committed to the lean initiative.

    How is it that companies like Toyota and Apple continue to innovate and redefine themselves? Its simple, the vision is driven from the very top of the organization.

    As you have correctly noted, lean is not a simple set of tools that can be implemented. Lean thinking brings the tools required to accomplish a task or achieve a given result to fruition.

    Thanks for sharing.

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