If I had a nickel for every time someone wrote that headline question. I’ve read a lot of answers and they are all very interesting, but I’m going to tell you what my experience has been. Here’s my take on it, there’s no simple answer. If there was, we wouldn’t be asking this question so often, but I believe that a lot of it has to do with leadership.
I’ve seen business savvy company leaders think that they can just hire a guy to do a few kaizen events on the production floor and then they can fly a lean flag. I’ve seen wannabe hero’s that insist that they are going to prove that they know lean and throw together all kinds of lean looking activities. I’ve leadership with rose colored glasses that insist nothing is wrong and I’ve seen others with a perpetual doom and gloom cloud over there head that think there is no point in trying. I’ve seen leaders that skim through a magazine article about lean (maybe written by a journalist that had no idea what they were talking about) and now he knows all he needs to know. I’ve seen leaders that have a bag of infinite excuses for every problem that could ever come up, so improvement is not required. I’ve seen scholarly type leaders believe that there is no need for them to learn about the gory details of the shop floor, they’d rather stay in the office. I’ve seen the inheritance of ancient “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin'” mentality far too many times. I’ve seen leaders think they can implement lean because they watched a lean expert from a distance and think they can mimic the moves. Then you have the leaders with “shiny object syndrome” and lean is the flavor of the week. I’ve seen leaders think that cutting headcount and inventory is the action that forces lean. I’ve seen leaders think that it’s simply a cost cutting program that can be implemented like an ERP system. I’m sure I could go on and on, but you get the point. If these types of leaders are running a company that is going to attempt lean implementation, it will be a failed attempt unless the mind is improved
In the late 1940’s and early 50’s, Taiichi Ohno successfully led the implementation of TPS as Plant Manager in one of Toyota’s engine plants, but he also had a very hands on background as an eager engineer. He constantly observed as he walked the floor daily, he held people responsible for improving their work place. He insisted that people learn and practice new ways. He was always seeking to learn the truth and to authenticate improvements.
Lean implementation has to start with strong top leadership that has the desire to engage themselves even more than they expect their employees to. I’m not a fan of overused adages, but it is true that nothing good comes easy. Lean implementation is without a doubt in that category.
So what if you are in that boat? What if you read one of those lines or you can come up with a worse one to describe your leadership. What if you are a leader and one of those lines described you? (if that’s the case, you deserve a lot of credit for your candor). Don’t worry, all is not lost. Stay tuned and we’ll talk about ways to fix this. Also, please let me know what your experiences are as well as any other thoughts on this subject.