21 ideas for successful implementation of Lean Management

21 ideas for successful implementation of Lean Management

"You't PowerPoint your way to Lean"

Ask for a definition of Lean management from 3 different people and you’ll likely get three different answers. Experts tells us that lean organizations have better systems and experience improved profitability. Customer satisfaction, of course, is considered the central focus in the lean approach and the idea is to remove any activities that the customer will not be willing to pay for (i.e. does not add value to the customer).

Some commonly stated goals of Lean are improving quality, increasing efficiency by eliminating "waste" and decreasing costs.

But beyond these goals, which most everyone would agree on, the strategic elements of Lean can be quite complex, and comprise multiple elements. Four different notions of lean have been identified:

  • Lean management as a fixed state or goal (being lean)
  • Lean management as a continuous improvement process (becoming lean)
  • Lean management as a set of working methods (doing lean/toolbox lean)
  • Lean management as a philosophy for application (lean thinking)

The key is to have a plan and get started. The path to lean will not be straight and it never ends. Don't let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of being "better" today.

But the biggest mistake that some people make is looking at Lean as only a set of tools or something that you do and then are done with - a bit like a project. Instead, the real gains come when it becomes a way of managing and is part of the fabric of your company.

Here are a few ideas on how you can successfully implement Lean management:

#1: Start with action in the technical system; follow quickly with cultural change

In order to make a strategic Lean approach work, process operators have to work in process related teams, rather than their current functional ones. Teams need to become truly self-directed, allowing problems to pick the people required to solve them from within the teams rather than management picking the problems and assigning them to people to solve.

This means starting with the tools but quickly realizing that Lean requires a change in thinking and managing. Most lean implementation failures are not due to failure to grasp the tools and techniques but a failure of change management.

#2: Ensure that all members of staff are correctly coached

This avoids conflict and delivers a management group that can facilitate change with the teams working for them and so remove waste efficiently. In practice, this means learn by doing first and training second.

Unfortunately, you cannot PowerPoint your way to Lean. The Toyota Way – often held up as the epitome of Lean - is about learning by doing. In the early stages of lean transformation there should be at least 80% doing and 20% training and informing.

The Toyota approach to training, for instance, is to put people in difficult situations and let them solve their way out of the problems. The Oliver Wight Approach, on the other hand, is to run an action-based learning event to both educate the team in Lean and its application to a process. This is achieved by facilitating the team in creating value stream maps of the current process prior to goal setting and the team creating a new Lean process, along with an implementation plan and budget.

#3: Start with value stream pilots to demonstrate lean as a system and provide a "go see" model

One of the key lean tools is that of "Value Stream Mapping". This tool when used correctly enables us to create a map of both value and waste in a given process. This map can then be used to understand the waste and its causes before moving on to remove it so that value flows without interruption of waste

When developing the current state map, future state map, and action plan for implementation, use a cross-functional group consisting of managers who can authorize resources and doers who are part of the process being mapped. Value stream mapping should be applied only to specific product families that will be immediately transformed.

#4: Use Kaizen workshops to teach and make rapid changes

Use a talented and experienced facilitator who has a deep understanding of lean tools and philosophy but keep training focused on a specific problem. This helps to keep the training relevant to real world situations and ensures that there are tangible outcomes from training activity. The kaizen might have an objective to reduce setup time from 80 minutes to 60 minutes in four days, for instance.

#5: Organize around value streams

In most organizations, management is organized by process or function. In other words, managers own certain steps in a process but nobody is responsible for the entire value stream. In the second edition of Lean Thinking (2003), the authors recommend a matrix organization where there are still heads of departments but also value stream managers, similar to Toyota's chief engineer system. Someone with real leadership skills and a deep understanding of the product and process must be responsible for the process of creating value for customers and must be accountable to the customer.

#6: Develop communication and feedback channels for everyone

This will aid in get support through involvement of people at various level by sharing their ideas to built synergy to move positively ahead in the lean journey.

#7: Make it mandatory

If a company looks at Lean transformation as a "nice to do" in spare time or as a voluntary activity, it will simply not happen. It needs to be mandatory and people need to be given the space to think about improvements they can make.

#8: Keep leadership focused on long-term learning

A crisis may prompt a lean movement, but may not be enough to turn a company around. Once the crisis has passed it can be all too tempting to go back to business as usual. Company leadership has to stay focused on Lean for the long term – not just to solve one problem.

#9: Prepare for resistance from middle management during implementation

Middle management resistance to change is the number 1 obstacle to implementing lean production, according to a survey conducted by the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), a nonprofit management research centre.

Over 36 percent of respondents to LEI’s annual surveys about lean business system implementation cited middle management as the top obstacle to lean implementation (the other top obstacles lack of implementation know-how [31 percent], and employee resistance [27.7 percent]).

This was in contrast to last year's survey, which found backsliding to the old ways of working as the primary obstacle to introducing lean management principles, followed by lack of implementation know-how and middle management resistance. Backsliding dropped to sixth place in this year's survey.

Learn more about Lean concepts and tools here. 

#10: Be opportunistic in identifying opportunities for big financial impact

When a company does not yet believe in the lean philosophy heart and soul, it is particularly important to achieve some big wins. Make sure you have dedicated time to identifying those opportunities - they'll be important for convincing people that Lean really can make an important difference.

#11: Realign metrics from a value stream perspective

Eliminate non-lean metrics that are wreaking havoc with those seriously invested in improving operational excellence. Next measure a variety of value stream metrics from lead time to inventory levels to first-pass quality.

#12: Build on your company's roots to develop your own "way"

Toyota has its way. You need to have your way. When Toyota works with companies to teach TPS, they insist that the companies develop their own system. Someone did something right to get you to this point. Build on that. Build on your company's heritage to identify what you stand for.

Lean will cut across functional/departmental boundaries which will eventually lead to a restructuring of responsibility for the major business processes rather than the current functional ownership of a department's activity.

#13: Hire or develop lean leaders and develop a succession system

The key here is not to take ownership of the plan but to provide conditions in which the team can implement Lean. The aim of this approach is to create a nucleus of people who are trained in the Lean tools and techniques, who have experienced Lean through hands-on application and who can then with some external support move on to help others create lean processes by transferring their knowledge.

#14: Leaders must thoroughly understand, believe in, and live the company's "way"

All leaders must understand the work in detail and know how to involve people. If the top is not driving the transformation, it will not happen. Then, to keep the results sustainable you must have a system for both result- based and process based performance measurement including measures for velocity of the overall business process and the individual business processes.

#15: Create a positive atmosphere

Be tolerant towards mistakes committed in lean environment with a supportive and learning attitude. Have patience with progress as this will be key to get results and also try to create a blame free supportive environment. Have courage to take risks at crucial stages to push things and resources to meet the plan and achieve results.

#16: Use experts for teaching and getting quick results

The word "sensei" is used in Japan with some reverence to refer to a teacher who has mastered the subject. A company needs a sensei to provide technical assistance and change management advice when it is trying something for the first time to help facilitate the transformation, get quick results, and keep the momentum building.

A good teacher will not do it all for you. You need to get lean knowledge into your company, either by hiring experts or by hiring outside experts as consultants. To develop a lean learning enterprise you need to build internal expertise—senior executives, improvement experts, and group leaders who believe in the philosophy and will spread lean throughout the organization over time.

We find that this approach is essential as education without application is so often a waste for all. Support at this stage will come in the form of middle management facilitation to ensure that the team is able to deliver on time against their implementation plan.

#17: Be Data Driven

Without data, you are left with opinions. Make sure that all decisions taken to optimize processes are based on sound data. This assists in taking the emotion out of key decisions and promotes acceptance.

#18: Track performance and make results visible

Real time data tracking is best. Ensure all processes have key measures and review them regularly.

#19: Benchmark with other companies

Visit other companies that have successfully implemented lean to get ideas and understanding; other companies are often delighted to present their lean implementation progress. Networking is key to ensure global understanding with other companies implementing Lean.

#20: Set up a Lean Enterprise Steering Team

This team would be responsible to provide support in the planning, resourcing, implementation, and follow-up accountability for implementation. The steering team is often identical to the normal line management team. The internal resources and external consultants would provide consulting support to the team. This infrastructure would resolve inter-departmental issues

#21 : Don't celebrate too early or give up too soon

Lean is a journey. When you've optimized your process - start again! The aim is to build a culture of continuous improvement for sustainability.