Lean: are we missing the point?

on Wednesday, 15 April 2015.

Lean: are we missing the point?
Lean, to me it has become a passion and a way of life. It was not always like that, for a few years I was one of the many who pushed against change. I look back and always remind myself why, it was very simple? I did not understand it. I placed the reason for my mistrust in the new process at the feet of the training element of this implementation.

I was first introduced to lean in or around 2000, the vision was simple. We had a new idea which was going to change everything, this only fuelled my scepticism. When the day arrived we did not start with an off site day to learn all about our new saviour, we started by implementing 5s. This was the beginning of the end for lean and its implementation.

As you can probably work out, the implementation failed. We spent a few months trying to understand it and worked with it, however the old way in our opinion was easier. A few years later I realised the managers and directors had attended a series of courses to understand lean and it rewards, but the implementation team had failed to understand lean had to be driven from the workforce, success was in the buy in not the telling.

A few years later I was lucky enough to be included in a second lean exercise, this time we were working with the world famous McKinsey & Company. It was different, we had experience to drive the correct behaviour. We were included and guided to success, and what a success. We were cutting non value added waste, we were seeing a massive increase in skills and buy in and we were saving time and money. I had brought in hook, line and sinker.

So the point! as I said above Lean is my passion, however I believe the process cannot be a success if it is only trained to the top guys. Lean needs to be coached to the entire workforce and success needs to driven by the employees, its a bosses job to remove barriers and supply the necessary. We are entering a new phase for lean and its journey, large business have been using the process for many years. Now the small to medium businesses are trying it out for the first time, however I have a concern for lean and its future in this sector.

Is it wrong to undertake a Six Sigma training course to become a lean advisor? has it changed your mindset enough to believe in its power to change others? I feel the sigma program has a place and that it is a valuable tool, but is it enough to be able to guide a company through a life changing implementation to success and then feel comfortable to walk away knowing they have the tools and knowledge to sustain the change?

We know 75% of implementations fail, we know it can only succeed if coached with belief and passion and we have the experience to know a failed implementation can discredit the house of lean and brand the process as a failure. The question remains, will this new but possible mishandled interest in lean turn into a failure or will lean fail in this sector due to the lack of experience and knowledge at the training stage.

the question has to be asked, is lean becoming more of a CV builder and money spinner, can it survive in the new sector? I would like to think it will, however we must always remember the key to lean success is gripped firmly by the employees not by the directors only...

Dave Skelton

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