Four Steps for a Successful Lean Transformation

Is your organization beginning their Lean transformation, but you don’t know where to start?  Have you been at it for years, but you appear to be stalled?  Have you recently been assigned to be your organization’s Lean Coordinator?  I want to share four steps for a successful Lean transformation.


Buy the Lean Game Plan

Over the thirty years that I have been honored to work with companies, I have seen fantastic, mind-blowing results from Lean efforts.  I have also seen companies lose interest after a short time.  They treat their Lean innovation like a Book of the Month Club or get frustrated from a lack of results.  Some organizations become paralyzed and never begin their Lean Innovation.  To me, that is the worst situation of all.

I would like to share some gotchas I have seen.

  1. Companies make their Lean Innovation more complicated than it needs to be. They gather too much data.  They struggle with analysis paralysis.  They confuse the workforce with Lean terminology.  None of this helps the company improve.  Use a simple roadmap for success.
  2. They put the success of the innovation in the hands of a few individuals. Leadership hands the effort to a few “Lean coordinators” and expects them to affect the bottom line.  How can you drive real culture change if everything is left to a few people?  There won’t be engagement if they involve only a few employees in the innovation.
  3. The number of Kaizen or Rapid Improvement Events (RIE’s) conducted is a Key Performance Indicator. This can lead to RIE fatigue.  We schedule people into events they know nothing about.  They are included in events to “check the box” that they were in a Rapid Improvement Event.

To make your Lean transformation more successful I wrote a book called the Lean Game Plan which shares a four steps for a successful Lean transformation.

Define your championship (Vision)

The first step is for leadership to agree upon what the True North is for the organization. This translates into a Lean Management System.  They must agree upon a few Key Performance Indicators that measure the performance of the business.

I had a client whose mantra was to measure what matters.  They went from measuring thirty KPI’s to about six.  Guess what?  They gained much more clarity in their business decision making and they made rapid gains in a short time.

Develop an Enterprise Value Stream map to identify waste opportunities which feed into your Lean Game Plan.  Conduct waste walks and go to where the work is being done to learn.

Establish a Lean Game Plan that includes Lean activities scheduled a quarter at a time.

Employee training camps

This should go without saying, but I’ve seen many organizations skip this step or try to take shortcuts. It is important to train everyone in the organization on basic lean concepts.  You aren’t trying to make them experts but expose them to Lean concepts.  This helps provide a background they can rely on when they take part in RIE’s.

Follow the Lean Game Plan

Using Value Stream Mapping as your backbone, identify waste in your processes. Focus on removing the waste using Rapid Improvement Events or Kaizen.  Schedule the events a quarter at a time and make sure they occur.

Ensure teams have a report out after every event.  Video the report-out in case members of leadership can’t attend in person.  They can watch the recording and provide positive feedback to the participants after the report out.  That feedback is a key ingredient for generating employee engagement and culture change.

Half time adjustments

Review your RIE library quarterly. After you have been conducting RIE’s for a while, you will develop a library of events that are complete.

Have a monthly meeting to review the events, formally close events, and ensure you are sustaining the gains.  If you are not seeing improvement to your KPI’s after two quarters, don’t be afraid to make changes.  Sports teams often make half-time course-corrections and your company should do the same!

The organizations I have coached over the years that adopt this simple framework have better results compared to organizations that don’t.  They have benefited greatly by using these four steps for a successful Lean transformation.

As always, it is an honor to serve you and I hope that you and your company are getting better every day!

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