What a Lean Transformation is Not…

What a Lean Transformation is Not…

We hear of many organizations say they are in the process of a Lean transformation.  But are they really?  Here are the examples of what a Lean transformation is not ….


A Lean transformation is not ….

1)         No short –term payback, or “Financial gains will be paid back in the long run – trust me”

A true KAIZEN™ transformation provides dividends… in the short term and in the long term.  However, there should never be no accountability (double negative intended) for this to occur.  Designing and implementing a future value stream and the associated KAIZEN™ events should always provide a short-term payback and a long-term payback.  It should more than justify the money that is spent on a consultant, KAIZEN™ Promotion Office (part of what we call Support KAIZEN™), and/or all of the efforts of the employees.  This is part of what we call Project KAIZEN™.

2)         Certifying newly ordained internal Lean experts

Just because someone is “certified”, they are not necessarily qualified to lead a Lean transformation.  Truly transforming a company’s results and culture requires a great deal of experience and knowledge.  There should always be a payback, in terms of increased employee morale, increased productivity, and increased customer satisfaction and quality.  Reduced costs are the icing on the cake, but never part of the initial focus.  Certifying Lean experts, by itself, does not provide these qualifications. They need assistance from internal or external experts as well as an internal support office.  We call this a KAIZEN™ Promotion Office, which is part of Support KAIZEN™.

Additionally, a true Lean transformation involves everyone – literally – not just Lean experts.  Everyone is involved in problem solving and continuous improvement.

3)         Monthly KAIZEN™ events

Moving from KAIZEN™ event to KAIZEN™ event will never transform a company if the events are the only thing that happen.  They provide great short-term benefits and some of them will be sustained, but without the development of a Lean culture and Lean leaders, many will not.  We call this Daily KAIZEN™ and Leaders KAIZEN™.

4)         5S gone wild

5S is a great tool and a great way to demonstrate whether or not a company has the fortitude and stamina to sustain their gains…when sustainment actually occurs.  There are true financial gains, but they are hard to prove or document which leaves some to wonder why they ever embarked on a Lean journey.  5S often involves sub-optimization of an area or process. It will improve that specific area or process but probably won’t improve the overall end-to-end process.  What’s missing is what we call Project KAIZEN™.

5)         Done with the current organization structure

Most organization structures have three main problems:

a)      The organization is way too department focused and not process (value stream) focused

If the main reporting line is up to a department manager and not to someone who owns the entire end- to-end process, your company is way too department focused.  Departments kill process flow and root cause analysis and promote waste.  As W. Edwards Deming said, we must “break down the barriers between departments.”

b)      The ratio of team members to team leaders is way off kilter

Anywhere from a 6:1 - 8:1 ratio of team members to team leaders is most appropriate.   If the ratio is higher, than the team leader may not be able to do what she or he is intended to do in a KAIZEN™ culture.  This is part of what we call Daily KAIZEN™.

c)      Team leaders don’t know how to be team leaders

They’ve never been trained or provided the correct expectations and so they resort to what they are comfortable doing— operating.  Learning how to use visual management, leading huddle meetings, how to do a proper Gemba walk, and performing leader standard work will provide the knowledge and tools of how to be team leaders.  This is all part of Daily KAIZEN™ and Leaders KAIZEN™.

6)         Based on tools like 5S, TPM, quick changeover

Tools will only get you so far.  Short-term improvements will be made. Some will be sustained;many will not be.  Further, after the project-based tool is used, there is no spirit of continuous improvement—making improvements every day, by everybody.  Application of tools does nothing to change behaviors and culture.  Without cultural change, there is no transformation.  We call this primarily Daily KAIZEN™.

7)         Manufacturing based

This is the silliest idea—that  Lean transformations only apply to manufacturing.  Everything we do in life revolves around processes, in all aspects of our careers and personal lives.  Waste lives everywhere.

My rule of thumb is this:  of the less time someone spends truly watching a process, the more waste there will be!  With that said, when was the last time you really watched the entire accounting process, design process, order entry process, purchasing process, or doing the laundry or washing the dishes processes?  These are the ones that have the most waste and potential improvement opportunities!  This should be part of Project KAIZEN™.

8)         Searching for waste at gemba walks

The search for and identification of waste in a transformed company should be constant, not just during gemba walks.  The search for and identification of waste should in a transformed company should be done by everybody, not just those specifically assigned to do so.  When both of these conditions occur, a Lean transformation has begun.  This is part of what we call Leaders KAIZEN™.

9)         Ground -up implementation

A Lean transformation has to be driven from the top.  A key attribute of any leader is to “walk the talk,”“practice what you preach,”and my favorite, “lead by example.” If a leader performs his or her standard work of improving the process and ensuring the process is run as designed (performing audits), then those who report to him/her will do the same.  We call this Leader’s KAIZEN™.

10)       Just Coaching

Coaching, in its purest form is really not practiced by many people.  When it is, it’s extremely beneficial to transforming a company’s culture.  However, coaching by itself is not enough.  A transformation is about taking action and experimenting.  Leaders must participate in KAIZEN™ events to lead by example.  Coaching is great, but it is not nearly enough. This is what we refer to as Project KAIZEN™.

A holistic approach to a true Lean transformation is required.  All aspects – Daily KAIZEN™, Project KAIZEN™, Leaders KAIZEN™, and Support KAIZEN™ are required! 

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