Success in the LEAN Journey

It has been said that over 60% of LEAN transformation efforts fail. As we dig into some of the root causes of this failure rate we can see many possible causes. It can range from not having the initial commitment all the way to not having the right team in place. Ultimately this transformation has to happen from the top where all the employees know that they will be supported in doing the right things to transform the business.
If we have capable and dynamic leaders to drive our LEAN improvement efforts the battle is staged in our favor. Finding these leaders can be problematic but once the right leader is found the journey becomes much easier. You are looking for a charismatic type of change agent that can communicate the vision of the LEAN culture. Let’s face it, there are some very smart LEAN people out in the world that cannot lead a team to save their life. A dynamic and excited leader spreads that vision to everyone they come in contact with. It is very contagious.
Whenever we come into an existing business and try to implement LEAN there is always some push back as people are resistant to change. They key we have found is to “Make Haste…Slowly” meaning implement changes in a systematic but controlled manner. For an example when teaching and implementing 5S take the team through the initial Sort phase and then allow sufficient time and more importantly training time for the concept to sink in before moving to the next phase.  When done in this manner the transformation is more gradual and the long term employees can cope with the change and adjust to the new environment more effectively. Everyone wants to get to the finish line as quickly as possible but remember we want everyone to cross the line with us. It is critical to stage your progression so that everyone is on the bus when it begins moving toward the finish line.
Getting everyone involved and listening to everyone’s input and suggestions is another key in embedding the culture of LEAN in a workplace. The leader is a facilitator or guide in the discussion and should never be viewed as the “dictator”. The leader should be careful not to get the “smartest guy in the room syndrome” and remember that they are a guide and mentor for the team. People naturally resist change so by involving the entire team in things such as rack placement, cycle time reductions, 5S, etc. it becomes everyone’s process and they will be proud of the end results.
Embedding the culture of continuous improvement means that some sort of standardized problem resolution methodology must be implemented. Some companies have great success with the various tools of root cause analysis such as the 5- Why’s, Fishbone Diagrams, Current reality tree, A3 or even the DMAIC methodology from Six Sigma. I think that the important thing is to have a systematic method to find the root cause of a problem or issue. People like structure and as leaders we need to provide the structured approach to problem resolution. Some people or companies prefer the data intensive approach of Six Sigma and some cultures prefer the more simple method of 5- Whys or perhaps the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) method. Over the years we have used Six Sigma, LEAN, Theory of Constraints and the individual tools of some of these in combination to solve many problems. The important thing is to have a structured method regardless of what it is. As you go down the path you can adjust these methods to suit the problem or issue at hand.
Please let me know your feedback as we are in this journey together and we can all succeed together.

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