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Why is Lean still important?
Zuzana Lendvayová, 13. 11. 2017

"Only 2 % of the companies that have a LEAN programme have achieved the expected results”, says the research of the Industry Week Magazine which cites Dr. Jeffrey Liker and Mike Rother from the Lean Enterprise Institute in its article "Why the LEAN Programmes Fail”. The committee of the Shingo Prize which awards the prizes for excellence in the LEAN production returned to the winners and found out that many of them had maintained their progress also after winning the prize.

Brandon Brown is Master of KATA Coaching and partner of the company W3 Group (USA) who told us about his experience with LEAN before his workshop in Žilina. His experience with the KATA system can be found in the article "How to Achieve and Maintain the Real System of Continuous Improvement”.

How do you define a Lean?

Looking back over the past 25 years of my experience, I would define it as: "A system of interwoven scientific practices and routines that can be taught to all levels of the organization, to learn how to permanently struggle to find innovative ways to continuously improve, adapt, and solve problems that prohibit 1 x1 flow of products or services at the lowest cost possible to one customer.

Why is Lean still important?

A very good question, and I tend to agree with Lean Blog expert, Mark Graban, who has several blogs and posts on how Lean is being viewed today. In his blog, "Why Lean Manufacturing… is Less Fun Than Google Autocomplete?” Mark tried various experiments by typing the starting search phrase "why lean manufacturing….” and the autocomplete function in Google autocomplete returns:

Clearly there are many, many people struggling with making Lean transformations successful and sustainable! Mark goes on to experiment with Google’s autocomplete function, but changes the word why to "what is lean manufacturing…” and the Google autocomplete returns:

Obviously, many, many people are thinking that Lean is about the tools and episodic training events! Mark changes the lead word to "where lean manufacturing…” and "how lean manufacturing…”, and there is more negative such as "fails” and "backfire” show up in the Google autocomplete function:

Mark goes on in other blogs to say that rather than LEAN, we have experienced 10 years of L.A.M.E = "Lean As Mistakenly Explained” and "Lean As Misguidedly Executed.”

What we have missed from the Toyota Production System and Lean Manufacturing over the last 3 decades is that Lean is about understanding the daily continuous improvement mindset of the people doing the work. Lean is about motivating and leading people to shift their fixed mindsets to a growth mindset. The tools of Lean are important, but Lean is much more about teaching people think creatively and innovatively about their daily work to adapt and move the culture of the organization – not training events and tools.

A second reason I think Lean is important comes from and an article in 2014, that quotes Mike Rother stating that Toyota has a saying, "We make millions of cars, but the customer buys only one.” So, if you are the one that gets a poorly manufactured, inferior quality, high maintenance cost automobile, are you likely going to tell your friends to go buy that brand of car? Not likely.

Finally, I think Lean is still important because very few organizations can achieve and sustain a true system of continuous improvement to achieve higher and higher levels of performance year over year. Once they face struggle or changing global economic environments, the uncommitted organizations fold under the difficulties and challenges they face. These organizations do not make room for or allow their people to struggle with problems, experiment with better methods and fail forward. These organizations teach that failure is not an option, when on the contrary, when we fail and learn from that failure, we can then build a Lean culture and transform the organization. I often quote a Lean Enterprise Institute article written by Dr. Jeffery Liker and Mike Rother titles "Why Lean Programs Fail” where they cite an Industry Week Magazine survey that reported that only 2 percent of companies that have Lean programs achieved their anticipated results. And that recently, the Shingo Prize committee, which gives awards for excellence in lean manufacturing, went back to past winners and found that many had not sustained their progress after winning the award!

  • People I coach tell me all the time, "sustainment of Lean is hard work!”
  • And I reply, "Yes, it is! You are constantly trying to change habits, behaviors and mindsets of people so you can beat entropy. And the laws of nature are constantly working against you to return the very system you are creating back to its original chaotic state. Couple that with trying to change peoples’ collective mindsets, behaviors and habits, is a constant struggle. If you are a Lean leader and you aren’t up for that type of struggle and challenge, then maybe you should reconsider Lean and your true purpose in life."

What are the biggest problems to change in management mind?

Management with a fixed mindset that change is tool based and driven by Lean Engineers, rather than having a growth mindset where experimenting and failing forward is not only allowed but encouraged and celebrated! Without struggle and failures, people cannot learn. And if management doesn’t create an environment where experimentation, failure, learning, and growth is encouraged and celebrated, then Lean will continue to be p
ushed upon people by management and destined for failure.

What is your message for management conference in Zilina?

Come learn, share, and grow with US! Experience what a growth mindset focused on daily deliberate practice of scientific thinking can do not only for you, but for your people!

Focus on the PEOPLE, and the numbers will COME!
Focus on the NUMBERS, and the People will GO! 

Lean a Toyota Kata


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