Are we making Lean to difficult?

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Many of us that drink the Lean Kool-Aid view Lean as the ultimate business methodology and any Lean implementation falling short of a complete transformation is a failure. If an organization chooses a different course than fully buying into a Lean Transformation”, what is the harm? It is about the business being a success, not about Lean.

Dr. Deming started with the Japanese in the 50s and in most instances companies that were rebuilding and did not necessarily have an existing company culture. In the first 10 to 20 years of their quality movement, the Japanese were not necessarily known as the epitome of quality. I am sure there were pockets of excellence, but a Japanese product in the 60s was considered cheap, that was the only reason to buy it. After 30 years of improvement, they made significant inroads to the automotive market because of fuel savings. It was not until the 80s that superior quality became evident, not only in automotive but other fields such as electronics. Just for the sake of numbers it was close to 40 years, and now it has been 60 years that these companies have been practicing Lean. Toyota of course is the flagship.

Lean implementations are fairly new in the United States compared to Japan manufacturing. So, has Western Leadership done that poor of a job? Is the problem not with Lean and its inability to spread through an organization more effectively and embrace leadership? Is a culture that hard to develop if it is working? I have said for a long time for Lean to be effective in a company, you have to quit calling it Lean. It has to become your own. When we look at other Japanese companies, how many do we think of as Lean? Would Honda, Sony, Komatsu and others consider themselves replicas of Toyota? Businessman and problems

We blame Leadership and Culture for the reasons that Lean does not succeed and for the sake of argument we can agree that it is true. I will also agree that Lean is hard. It is hard to be excellent. I would like to turn the tables a bit, and ask, Can an average company be Lean? Can an average company start on the journey? Most of us are average whether we care to admit or not. How can we make Lean work for average guys like me?

I hear the same thing over and over again in every LinkedIn thread. It is Leadership and culture. So, if it is not working, how does Lean need to adapt to address these issues? Instead of a company being asked to become Lean, why don’t we ask what Lean has to do to become part of a company?

Are we raising the bar too high for entry? The Lean Handbook: A Guide to the Bronze Certification Body of Knowledge book, I respect the authors tremendously, starts out with culture and transformation. Natalie’s Saylor, Lean For Dummies book moved culture to the front of the book in the latest edition.

If we want Lean to grow, should we address culture and leadership out of the gate? Does it need to make sense across the organization from 5S at the tactical level to financial at the leadership level? Six Sigma had problems when they decided to become useful at $200K projects and above. Is the bar raised to high for Lean to grow?

Many Lean practitioners feel that my views are not even Lean because my efforts are improving what sales and marketing do versus making them “Lean”. I am not against seeing Lean as a culture and a business methodology. However, most other people outside of the community do not recognize Lean in that way. Lean was a learn by doing approach with simple understandable components of improvement. Now, it seems to have taken this aura that it all about leadership and culture. Are we making Lean to difficult?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.

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