Lean Success Requires Avoiding Mistakes
Missteps that can derail your workflow and affect your bottom line
By Bob Yenkner
Success with Lean principles requires more than just “doing things right.” It requires you to recognize and avoid costly blunders that can lead to failure of your process improvement efforts. Everyone in your organization must be on the lookout for the early signs of failure that can occur at every step along the Lean journey. While there are a multitude of mistakes that can occur, here are five common missteps that everyone should watch for.
The Belief that Lean is Only Focused on Manufacturing
According to Jamie Flinchbaugh of the Lean Learning Center, “There are three reasons why people get stuck in the ‘Lean-equals-manufacturing’ mindset.” First, there is an abundance of Lean media, training, and books focused on “Lean Manufacturing. Some people tend to take the words literally and are unable to visualize how Lean applies in their laboratories. Second, manufacturing is the most visible and measurable part of the organization. To quote the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton, “That’s where the money is,” but is that where all the waste resides? Think about the non-value added time in booking on/off jobs, hunting for specific trays, or laboratory slip handling. Finally, most companies start their Lean transformation on the shop floor, and do not adequately address the office environment, so these other functional areas immediately associate Lean with manufacturing. It is important to involve all operations, including administrative, in process improvement initiatives to have true success with Lean.
Allowing the Lean Department to Lead Transformation
How many times have we seen a new process or system get “tossed over the wall” to the employees and the owners expect them to use it without question? True Lean transformation requires total employee participation. Without everyone on board, you will never support and sustain the gains you have made. It is desirable (but not always possible) to have internal Lean champions, who will facilitate, coach, train, and support the employees who use the tools and methodologies daily.
Confusing Activity with Productivity
One concept of the Theory of Constraints is the understanding of “utilization” versus “activation.” Utilization states that the resource is engaged in a meaningful activity that adds value (as much as possible) to meet customer demands or expectations. Activation is defined as working to stay busy, regardless of the demand. Activation is easily found in a laboratory that measures efficiency (actual hours versus labor hours) where over-production (simply running to keep “busy”) is common. Measurements, work load, waste-free standard work, and good quality practices all must be aligned to ensure that the business is being productive.
Focusing on Kaizen Events versus True Cultural Change
Kaizen events (Japanese word meaning “improvement” or “change for the best”) are a critical tool to drive change. A good Lean transformation will use kaizen events to build consensus, support, and ownership among employees at all levels, as well as focus on financial impact as a secondary benefit. Kaizen events are but a tool in a large Lean toolkit, and conducting kaizen events without basic Lean training for the participants, and/or conducting kaizen events that are not aligned with the company vision, will only provide short-term successes that will not lead to major and sustainable growth.
Expecting Instant Results
Too many companies focus on the ROI (Return on Investment) measure when it comes to Lean efforts. They require instant results and quite often will put unrealistic timelines on the change efforts. This results in cutting corners, shorting resources, and ultimately can negatively impact sustainability. There is a difference between executing new procedures with a sense of urgency and a headlong rush to complete the next activity on the list. The company that executes initiatives based on strategic planning, pays attention to the right details and commits the proper resources has a significantly higher chance of avoiding mistakes than one that acts without putting in the proper thought. To put it simply, slow and steady wins the race.
Lean success is never guaranteed. However, if you are aware of these common deployment traps and make every effort to avoid them, your Lean transformation has a very good chance of providing long-term viability and significant business growth.
About the Author
Bob Yenkner is the owner of Practical Process Improvement (PPI) in Higganum, CT.