Monday, December 7, 2009

Repairing a Faulty Lean Process

When I am asked to help a company with a lean implementation, it is often because the initiative has failed in some way to meet expectations. In many cases, I find that the problem is related to the company attempting to implement lean at an expert level rather than starting slowly and letting the process evolve and develop over time.

As a follow up to an earlier post on why lean fails, I will present here some of the most basic and easily correctable problems that I have seen with companies that have asked for help with their lean processes. It is important to note that correcting a "lean gone bad" situation is possible and not necessarily difficult. It usually requires stopping the process for reflection and making adjustments to put the initiative back on track to be successful.

Don't Try To Be Toyota

There has been a lot written about Toyota and how lean has contributed to their success over the last several decades. There are books, seminars, and conferences detailing exactly how Toyota uses lean, including the tools and steps they deploy (and even the words they use) to identify and eliminate waste.

Toyota is the master of lean. They invented it and have been using (and perfecting) it for the last 60 years. An attempt to copy how they use it without going through the process to learn and develop the system is akin to reading a book on skiing and heading for the black runs on your first trip to the slopes. It is dangerous and most likely will end in disappointment (or worse).

The Basics

When an organization asks for help to get lean back on track quickly, I often recommend the following basic actions:
  1. Focus on Small Improvements Stop doing kaizen events and focus instead on small improvements. Kaizen events (covering multiple consecutive days) require a lot of focus, pre-work, and a very experienced facilitator to carry out; while small improvements can be implemented with very little training and experience.

    Also, a kaizen event often requires interrupting the operation for a period of time while the improvements are being implemented. There is a much higher chance of losing the support of the person responsible for the operation if a shutdown is needed.

    Small improvements also allow people to learn how to apply the tools as improvements are made with a much smaller risk of failure.

    Giving team members time on a regular basis (e.g., 30-60 minutes per week) to work on improvement activities can lead to some great results, and enable the lean process to evolve and develop effectively.

  2. Use the People Closest to the Process Western business has somehow been led to believe that lean is not possible without hiring six-sigma black belts to facilitate the improvements. Although the six-sigma methodology includes some very sophisticated statistical tools, they are not necessary to make improvements early in the process. Especially at first, it is very likely that there are significant improvements are possible with the use of only a few basic tools.

    The best lean implementations I have witnessed have had those closest to the process heavily involved in the process. Projects are led by the team leader or a team member who has naturally grown into the facilitator position. I do not believe that the process works nearly as well when projects involve people who are not part of the team.

  3. Continually Train & Develop Once the commitment is made to implement lean, people throughout the company need to be trained and developed on a continual basis, as opposed to a single, multiple-day class at the outset of the process. Workers need training in the process improvement tools; supervisors and managers need training in leadership (specifically what it means to lead in a lean environment); and executives need to be trained in the barriers to lean and what they can do to make the process successful. It is more effective when this is done over time so people can relate what they learn to the changing environment.
The above steps do not always cure all of the problems with an unsuccessful lean implementation, but I have found that they often have a positive enough impact to get the process back on track fairly quickly.


Joye said...

Great post, Gregg. I agree with everything you said. Thanks for sharing.

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