Sustaining the Lean movement

by theleanthinker

I have just read the latest newsletter from the LEI and it states that a recent study has suggested that more and more companies are struggling or even failing completely to sustain Lean improvements. The newsletter offered a reason for this lack of sustainability. It believed that companies are full of deeply hidden unwritten rules, which are the blockades stopping Lean implementation being successful. These rules are often anti-Lean in nature, and can provide unnecessary friction against Lean success. The questions that this poses are:

How do we discover these hidden rules?
What can we do to remove them when they are discovered?
How can we prevent their reappearance?

One thing is certain, there must be clear leaders who can help collaborate efforts from everyone to locate the hidden rules, and once discovered, instigate ways of removing them. This way a culture of problem-solving can be created, which in itself will help further Lean and continuous improvement.

To help uncover the hidden rules workshops with VSM (value stream mapping) are a great way to start. The question: “Are there any unquestioned assumptions driving the performance or design of the current-state value stream?” should be asked. Often it will be useful to gain an external view, as this can help see the value stream in a new light and offer approaches previously not thought of.

Let’s not forget that managers and leaders should go to the Gemba. They must walk the value stream and locate areas of waste and any problematic processes. These Gemba walks are key to fully understanding the processes and how the value flows from raw materials through to product/service delivery.

When these problems are discovered focus groups should be used to brainstorm available action plans. By using these groups (preferably with people from the problem area) often the best (currently known) solution can be found. This is due to the workers having the highest knowledge of the process, and therefore can offer the best solutions. This also creates employee ‘buy-in’ and ownership which will help considerably in sustaining the improvement.