‘Lean’ is a journey without end

    A recent discussion with some Lean experts brought about an epiphany regarding the "Lean Champion." We were discussing the circumstances of the recent firing of a Lean Champion. As the discussion progressed, I began to remember several similar situations and came to the conclusion that many companies inadvertently set up this position to fail.

    What I have found over the past several years is that the typical life expectancy of a "Lean Champion" is two to three years. There are several reasons for this, but here are a few that always stand out:

    1. The Lean Champion is now the Lean "Messiah." As a good friend of mine likes to say, "You know what happens to the Messiah!"
    2. Lean implementation is now the Lean Champion’s responsibility. They are given every opportunity to get Lean implemented in an organization. They are driven to prove that they can make this happen. The burden is fully on the Lean Champion’s shoulders.
    3. Low Hanging Fruit is always a tempting way to prove a Lean Champion’s success. A quick 5-S program or maybe even a VSM or Kaizen might surprise everyone with the improvement and dollars realized.

    However, now the Lean Champion has fallen into the trap of "what is the next big success that I need to have to prove my worth? It is all up to me."

    Unfortunately, senior teams are very happy to give that responsibility to the Lean Champion. It doesn’t take much imagination to see where this is going.

    Here is my take on this phenomenon. Today’s manufacturers know that they need to practice Lean Principles and develop an ongoing continuous improvement program to compete. Given this, here is where implementation of a Lean Culture fails:

    Temptation #1: To think of Lean as a "program" with an end. Lean is not a program, it is a culture. Lean is an ongoing journey with no end.
    Temptation #2: Senior management decides to hire a "Lean Champion" who will be responsible for Lean implementation. Typically this person is well-versed in Lean Principles and tools and has been successful in other companies, or it is a person who is known in his company as the person who get things done. Seemingly this is a good fit.
    Temptation #3: The Lean Champion reports to the senior team. Lean is a culture, and culture is in the hands of the CEO. Culture cannot be developed nor changed by an individual who is not even on the senior team.
    Temptation #4:  Training the troops. "Let’s put all of our employees through Lean 101.  Let’s do a 5-S and then maybe a Kaizen event and perhaps we can do a VSM of the factory floor. If we are doing all of these things, we are surely a Lean organization. "
    Temptation #5: Succumbing to the shallow victory of "low hanging fruit." Just about any of the Lean tools will help you save money and in some cases you might even get really lucky and save a lot of money right out of the box. As we all know, low hanging fruit is easy to reach and just a small part of the harvest.

    I see many companies, not just manufacturing companies, giving in to these temptations.  So, the following are some tips that will help develop a Lean Culture that is successfully implemented throughout the entire company with sustaining results.
    Success Tip #1: The CEO and his or her team need to embrace Lean principles as a way of life. Only this level can make culture change and sustain it. This senior team should work closely with a Lean expert to develop their roles and education in Lean principles.
    Success Tip #2: The CEO designates the senior team as the company’s "Lean Champions." Each team member is responsible for spreading Lean Culture throughout the organization. Senior Team members develop subordinate teams for implementation.  
    Success Tip #3: A good idea is to appoint a "Lean Coordinator." This person will coordinate communications, support implementation teams in setting up a 5-S program, document Kaizen events and VSMs, organize training and scheduling, and suggest visual management tools to be used throughout the facility.
    Success Tip #4: Train the Troops. Start with the senior team and be sure that there is a "train the trainer" process embedded in this training so that it can easily move through the organization. The CEO’s role is to support Lean implementation at the senior level, walk the talk to support the Lean culture in a visible way and manage the process through a simple list of metrics to which everyone can be held accountable. The senior team will need to understand Lean principles as a culture, develop a team environment and support their team leaders in implementing Lean principles.  
    Success Tip #5:  "Beware of Low Hanging Fruit." Implementing Lean principles will certainly produce a number of low hanging fruit successes. Some of these will be quite amazing. However, the greater rewards are to be found in the consistent and continuous improvement processes that are found in Lean principles.

    A simple metric for improvement is 1 percent per month forever. This will enforce Lean as a culture. To create an "end goal" is to limit the success of Lean.

    Linda Kiedrowski is president of The Paranet Group Inc., a Brookfield-based consulting company for manufacturers. The Paranet Group will co-present the Manufacturing Summit Breakfast with Small Business Times on Thursday, May 1.



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