Friday, December 02, 2005

Share your Lean Failure Stories

If you'd like to share your personal "lean failure" stories, email Mark or post them as "comments" under the headings below.

Consider it a learning opportunity for others. I might post the best or most instructive stories. Please leave company names out and I'll preserve your anonymity.

We can all learn from the mistakes of others. It's difficult to do lean properly and we all have some sort of "failure", big or small. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It is shameful to not move forward and to keep improving.


Monday, July 11, 2005

Reason #1: Lack of Top Down Management Support

Rubrich writes "Lack of top management support for a WCE (world class enterprise) [or lean] implementation can be an extremely costly, and if left unaccomplished, a fatal mistake."

You can make a very strong case that your lean efforts are doomed without top management support. Sure you might make a lot of progress in the short to mid-term, but your gains will inevitably disappear. When does it happen? The point where management won't let you stay with a level production schedule, forcing you to "pull in" orders from next quarter? Is it the point where management looks for cost "savings" through mass layoffs? Or is when top management never realized that lean is a cultural and management mindset change as much as it is a bunch of tools?

What are your experiences with the role of upper management support for lean? Can you effectively implement lean with only Plant Manager support? Do you need full support involvement of the C-level executives? What examples do you have of failed lean implementation efforts where the failure mode was lack of top management support or inconsistent support?

Click "Comments" to share your experiences and read those of others.

Reason #2: Lack of Communication

Rubrich says that Reasons #1 and #2 are "fatal errors" for a lean implementation. "Lacking either of these support elements, WCE (lean) will inevitably end up with other company initiatives in the "program of the month" graveyard.

There are many aspects and levels of communication required to avoid a lean implementation failure. Rubrich says that initial steps include a major announcement of the coming changes, but then also having "management visible and available to thoroughly discuss the change on all shifts for the first few days after the change announcement."

I think that is an important step and a sign of respect for all of your employees. If your lean initiative is something for only the leadership team to know about and discuss, you're missing the boat. If you want your employees and production associates to be engaged in the spirit of kaizen, you have to listen to their concerns and fears and address their questions. Be out there on the shopfloor, the "gemba" (actual place), don't retreat back to your offices (or better yet, move your offices closer to the shopfloor!).

Rubrich's book outlines the additional forms of communication required through a lean implementation. What stories do you have of lean miscommunications or related "lean failures?" Click "comments" to add your experiences or share tips for good management communication.

Click Here to Buy the Book "How to Prevent Lean Implementation Failures.".

Reason #3: Lack of Middle Management/Supervisor Buy-In

In this short chapter, Rubrich writes that middle managers and supervisors can be a roadblock, or a "brick wall." I've also heard these managers be called "concrete heads."

Many supervisors "had it good" under the old non-lean system. When they said "jump" people had to jump. Supervisors had control and power. Being a supervisor in a Lean environment forces you to be more of a coach and a leader. You have to be comfortable letting your employees take the lead on finding solutions to things. You have to listen to your employees, responding to their needs, problems, and requests. Many supervisors can't stomach that transition.

Rubruch lays out a 90-day plan for supervisors -- within 90 days, you should know which supervisors can make the transition and which ones you're going to have to part ways with.

Mark's advice: start with your supervisors at DAY ONE of lean. Let them know they have new expectations. But set CLEAR expectations about how to lead. The book, The Toyota Way Fieldbook is an excellent resource on how to be a lean leader.

Reason #4: Not Understanding That This Is About Your People

This whole topic requires more than one post, the idea that Lean and the Toyota Production System should be about your people. There are many ways to define this idea of "about your people."

In the book, Rubrich highlights first that "equipment alone" won't make any company "World Class." Implementing lean successfully requires the input of your employees. Rubrich says that "80%" of lean is accomplished through people and "20%" is accompished through "techniques, equipment, and automation." He continues to describe cultural characteristics of a lean company and how training is the core of your lean investments.

So what are other ways in which we can define "about your people?"

Just one of them is the idea that lean efforts and methods should be making things EASIER for your employees. How many lean implementations focus on the manager's notion of waste? What if that notion of waste is "my people are standing around too much?" Lean, for that manager, might mean "my people need to work harder." That's not right. That' s not lean. The lean mindset assumes that people want to work -- this requires an environment of trust and other good management characteristics. Assuming that people want to work, lean should look for waste -- things that get in the way of people doing their jobs. Rather than focusing on the "Waste of Waiting" (people standing around), lean needs to focus on other types of waste -- defective parts, unreliable machines, lack of training, etc. I bet your employees are mad that you buy defective parts from a supplier because it was "cheaper." No wonder they get frustrated and "don't want to work." Fix problems and allow people to take pride in their work and their company. That will motivate people to contribute more, for themselves and for the company (the employees need to share in company success).

When a lean implementation has gone well, your employees should say "my day has far fewer frustrations, we're not fighting the same fires every day, I'm proud to work here." If people view lean as just an additional burden on them (e.g, they still have all the same waste as before, but management makes them put tape around everything), that's not a good lean implementation.

Other ways that lean should be about your people:
  • Making sure that lean is about developing people and their skills. This is something that Toyota excels at and makes a huge priority for the company. Toyota doesn't just build cars, they build people, they like to say. That's a very powerful message.
  • Lean should lead to new management and leadership styles -- less directive and less dictatorial, more coaching and more supportive. Lean leadership is demanding at the same time -- it's about having "respect for people" in the way you treat employees and in the way you manage them.
What are other ways that lean needs to be about people? Have you been in a lean implementation where management failed to realize it was "about their people?" What happened? Click on "Comments" to share your experiences and advice.

Reason #5: Lack of Customer Focus

Reason #6: Lack of Improvement Measures

Reason #7: Lack of Lean Leadership

Reason #8: People Measures Not Aligned With Lean Goals

Reason #9: Using Kaizen Events As The Sole Improvement Measurement

Reason #10: Bonus Pay Systems Where The Only Measure Is Company Profitability