Rolling Out Lean Principles in a Business or Organization

A brief outline of the steps to rolling out Lean in the work place. Bear in mind that I believe success depends upon leadership and mentoring instead of supervision.
First, listen and teach. Set up brief training sessions using classroom time, Gemba walks, 5S, and identifying waste. Teach the group to use Lean tools to recognize opportunities while walking their work space. Frame what you teach in terms of the listeners’ value proposition. This is to gain trust. As a leader, you should be selling instead of telling. Teach basic tools they can use right now. Have the group document a list of opportunities.
Second, lead the group into a baby step project.  If they haven’t done so already, have the team create a list of opportunities and chose which they want to tackle as a project. At this point they become a team instead of a group of individuals. Teach them tools for use in their chosen project and go out and get it done. As others see the team’s activities, you may see the number of individuals interested in participating increase. Allow this to happen. You may have to create more than one team depending business circumstances.
Third, after a successful project, have the team re-evaluate the list they created earlier. It will change based upon what they have learned. Tackle another project from the list. Get some momentum from successful projects. This increases trust. Encourage the team to take on smaller projects in their own work space. Act as a facilitator and a supplier of resources. Lead instead of supervising. Again, as others see the team’s activities, you may see the number of individuals interested in participating increase. Allow this to happen. You may have to create more than one team depending business circumstances.
Forth, you are now in the midst of a Lean rollout. You may want to christen the rollout with a name that is unique to the team or teams. Be careful about asking the team to follow you in the Lean implementation on a larger scale. You don’t want the team(s) to see the process as a “program” they are doing for someone else. They need to see it as something they are doing for themselves (remember the value proposition they started with). The team(s) need to “own” the initiative. There will come a time for them to see it on a larger scale.
Fifth, you don’t have to use special names for tools and projects. This can create pushback. Listen to the people you are working with and they will indicate when, if ever, it is appropriate to start adding special names. The main thing is to keep in alignment with the overall value proposition of the business and in alignment with the team’s value proposition.
Sixth, “keep the main thing the main thing” by not allowing the effort to become personally yours. The effort belongs to the group and the business as a whole. As much as possible, stay in a leadership mode instead of a supervisory mode.

Net Promoter Score

Net Promoter Score is a metric that gives an external scoring of the quality of your internal processes. It measures your performance in the eyes of the customer. Like all other quality measures, NPS is only useful when kept in context.

For example, if you survey every shopper that did not purchase from you or every customer with a bad experience, you will have a negative NPS. Conversely, if you survey only successful shopper interfaces, you will get a positive score.

Lean Six Sigma

We don’t have control, we have choices. The best we can do is improve our method of making choices and hope for good results.

This is the rub. We generally set ourselves up for disappointment and failure because we make emotional choices and don’t get the results we want. We assume that our environment is predictable and that the universe behaves according to a fixed process that coincides nicely with our expectations. The plain truth is that you don’t know what you don’t know. And sometimes, you are not even aware that you don’t know.
This may seem like a bunch of idle chatter, but the concept impacts businesses everyday. This is why Six Sigma and Lean are so important in our global economy. Reducing variability and making processes more predictable improves the quality of our decision making. Less emotion and more critical analysis.
I did an experiment while participating in a March Madness Basketball Pool this past year. I entered three different brackets. One bracket was based upon selecting my favorite teams, one was based upon my “gut feelings” about who would win, and the last I did using statistical data from experts in the college basketball world.
These are the typical decision making strategies seen everyday in business. The emotional decision, the gut feeling, and the critically analyzed decision. In the case of my brackets, the one based on my emotions (favorite teams) fared the worst. The Bracket based upon my gut feelings did marginally better. The bracket based upon statistical research did really well.
This is the point behind Six Sigma and Lean. Moving toward data based decisions.  It doesn’t  mean that using gut feelings is always bad. There is a time and place for everything. When properly implemented, Six Sigma and Lean will reduce variation in your processes and make them more predictable. This in turn increases the quality of our choices.

Change Leadership

All management strategies and paradigms, from old school to Lean, have one element that is the same. That element is people. People are not pawns on a game board, they are not machines and they don’t always follow management’s vision.

In fact, the people side of management is never clear cut, and is nearly always messy. Everyone has their motives for doing the the things they do. Not everyone has the same goals in mind.
Failure to address the human element will undermine any effort that management may take to change the culture in a business. The reason is that culture is all about the human element. You can’t dictate attitudes and motives, nor can you just ask for change.
Here is the secret. All change, all improvement, Lean or otherwise, must be lead. It is experienced together with others. Let me give you an example. Years ago, when hurricane Hugo came through South Carolina, I was managerially responsible for an industrial waste treatment facility. All retention ponds were filling and the plant could not keep up.  The state had given me permission to by-pass the rain water directly to the river in order to keep other contaminated water contained.  This required the re-routing of a 12 inch fiber cast pipe while the hurricane was in full swing. I had a staff of 5 technicians on duty that night. All had families in the storm’s path and all were worried.
This was a time for action, so I  said what needed to be done, grabbed my tool bag, and headed out the door into the weather. I didn’t ask anyone else to go, but everyone followed me into the storm. We fought the weather for more than two hours and got the job done.
After that night, I had a minimum of 15 to 20 workers from around the company volunteering to work with me on a daily basis. We had a reputation for action and a “can do” attitude. In this case strong leadership resulted in strong follow ship. The culture began to change because the employees saw the management team change.
My point is this. If you want to change the culture in your work space, let the change begin with you. If you want to implement a Lean movement, let the change begin with you. Exercise strong leadership and you will get strong follow ship.
Strong follow ship leads to a shared vision. A shared vision leads to less resistance to change.

Project Time Estimates

Why is it that projects more often than not come in behind schedule and over budget? This question drives business executives crazy. Why shouldn’t there be an even split between on time project delivery and late project delivery? These are valid questions.

Lean Readiness Assessment

One of the problems with Lean applications, Six Sigma, Kaizen, 5-S, etc., is that they get applied without an adequate understanding of the target business. The result is a failure of the tool to “take”, and any improvements gained are short lived. Within a few days, things start sliding back to what the “normal” used to be.

The missing step is a readiness assessment. A thorough understanding of the business and its culture must be coupled with a thorough understanding of the Lean tool being used, in order to provide the best chance of success. This readiness assessment takes time to develop, requires good listening skills, and business acumen.

Waste Reduction and 5-S

Waste can take many forms. There is waste of time, material, human resources, etc., all of which result in a waste of money for the business and its customers. Time and material is easy to understand, even if not always easy to see. The waste of human resources is more insidious.

Everything is interconnected and waste is usually found to be both the result of other waste and the cause of other waste. The ability to see both the big picture and the little picture at the same time is important. Fixing waste in one area that creates waste somewhere else is called sub-optimization and is counterproductive. Solid leadership and a shared vision will save the day in any waste reduction initiative.

Cycle Time and Utilization

In order to improve my on-time delivery of service, do I add resources to my process, or do I try to improve my process cycle time?  The first consideration is that increasing resources increases your cost of operation. Improving cycle time does not. Another way to look at this is to compare your process cycle time with percent utilization of resources.

There is a relationship between variability in cycle time and percent utilization of resources. The source of this variation can be found in quality, rework, employee issues, etc. When variation is high, the percent utilization of resources reflects that variability and can impact on-time delivery, cost, and knowing how to allocate capacity (hiring, capital equipment, etc.).

Lean Marketing

Lean principles apply to any process based operation. I cannot think of any process that does not have non-value added components in it that create the opportunity for waste production.  In fact, by definition, a non-value added component in a process is waste.

Let’s take marketing for example and do something called lean marketing. Please remember that in a post of this size, I am leaving a lot to the imagination. Some businesses have marketing programs that start with the product/service and move outward to the customer. They call this customer focused because they do eventually think about the customer. This is not all bad because the customer is a part of the equation. The problem with this approach is that it is self-limiting.  In effect, it allows the product/service to define the target customers and, as a result, becomes growth limited by this boundary. This is the waste of missed opportunity