Real Lean Transformation

The Seven Deadly Sins of Lean Programmes - Why Lean Programmes often under perform

In an effort to deploy Lean across their organisations, many companies have invested heavily in large multi site programmes supported by dedicated internal Lean resources. The results from these programmes are quite often patchy and underwhelming. So why do these programs under perform?

In short, lots of companies have ‘done’ Lean but how lean are they really ? The answer is in most cases is ‘not very’. Below we examine the Seven Deadly Sins of Lean Prgrammes. 

1. Focusing only on Waste Elimination

‘Real’ Lean has been progressively replaced with a ‘dumbed down’ version based almost totally on waste elimination. “Elimination of waste” is a core principle of lean, but the intent of the Toyota system is “the complete and thorough elimination of wasteful practices.” Waste, (Muda in Japanese), is only one of the 3 primary wasteful practices identified by Toyota. There are seven well defined sub-categories of waste and many weaker Lean projects are based solely on reducing or eliminating these. The other primary wasteful practices are:

  • Mura – uneveness (volatility)
  • Muri – overburden (over loading of people or equipment).

The significance of Mura and Muri are often misunderstood and underestimated. Levelling, Flow, Pull and Standard Work are key enablers in tackling Mura and Muri and in becoming truly lean. These are also often poorly understood and inadequately addressed in many Lean programmes. There is a simple reason for this. Waste is easy see and understand and tools like Value Stream Mapping help identify lots of waste to work on whereas Levelling, Flow and standard work are more difficult to understand and address. Unfortunately Lean is a space littered with well ‘qualified’ but poor practitioners.

Eliminating waste from a levelled flowed process, instead of at isolated points creates processes that need less human effort, less space, and less time to add value at less cost with fewer errors and failures than traditional processes. Lean processes are also able to respond to changing customer priorities with fast turnaround times.

2. Focusing on deployment of tools rather than improvement of performance

Less effective Lean Programmes are often too focused on the deployment of a standard set of tools. Tools like Value Stream Maps, Kaizen, 5S, SMED, Gemba walks, Work Balance Charts, etc. are important but Lean projects should be clearly focused on improving measurable performance using whatever lean tools are appropriate to the particular process.

3. Programme not linked to any system of goal deployment

To ensure sustainability and effectiveness, a Lean Programme needs to be linked to a structured process of Goal Deployment. Senior managers should identify measurable site objectives which are then deployed to individual functional areas in a mathematically cogent way.  Functional managers should use Lean practices and projects to achieve their particular goal and the cycle should be repeated each year.

Lean Programmes that are not meaningfully linked to site goals run the risk of becoming irrelevant. 

4. Programme  owned by internal consultants and not functional managers

Very often the internal lean resources are seen as owners of the lean programme. To be successful, lean projects and practices need to be led and owned by the functional or area managers (even if heavily supported by dedicated internal lean resources). Otherwise managers will regard the programme (perhaps even sub-consciously) as interference and will allow it to slowly fade away and die via subtle resistance and lack of support.  

5. Focusing too much on training and culture change

If it is to be sustained, people need to see value in the lean programme from early on. This is why an initial heavy focus on training, skill building and culture change (without meaningful goals and projects to improve performance) usually backfires. Training is important but is most effective when given in the context of projects the individuals are about to take on.

6. Lean improvements not converted into meaningful measurable performance improvements

In many Lean programs, improvements are made at isolated points in the overall process or value stream. These improvements are very often not ‘connected up’ and turned into a meaningful overall improvement. ie. more, faster, cheaper.

7. Expecting people to know what they don’t know

It needs an experienced eye to identify applicable lean best practice and opportunities for improving measurable performance. It is unrealistic to expect people who are new to lean to be able to do this themselves based on generic lean training.

This Opinion was written by Tom Reynolds, Operations Practice Director with BSM. If you would like further information on Lean Management please send an e-mail to Tom.

Filed under: