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Month: September 2016



Why does Lean fail in some organisations and not others? The simple answer is Leadership.  Leadership can make or break a Lean programme. Let’s look at some of the common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

  1. Remember, Leadership is exactly that, Leadership. It cannot be delegated to someone else.

One of the very basic points about Lean that many organisations miss is it will require people to think and perform differently. When asking an organisation to change, Leaders, at all levels, will need to change with it. They will need to become ‘active teachers’.

Singular, clear directions need to be set and communicated from the top down. The message needs to be understood by all heads of departments and more importantly, they need to believe in it.  The senior team needs to be “Engaged”, this means that process improvement activities are in their schedules and that they turn up and attend. It should not be seen as an initiative that is assigned to others.

  1. Don’t forget Middle Management.

Middle managers are notoriously difficult to get on board. They often struggle to see the big picture when faced with both upward and downward pressures. This layer of the structure requires extra attention, because without their support it will be incredibly hard to get Lean thinking embedded into the organisation. They are the ones that talk to the workforce on a day to day basis. They are the ones that turn instructions into actions.

Take time to get the Middle managers on board. Help develop their Leadership skills and help them to understand the need for the Lean approach in their part of the business. If leaders lead, middle managers will follow and the cultural shift will be easier.

  1. Leadership styles are different in a Lean organisation.

Remember, Lean is not only a physical change tool, but also a cultural change model. So by default this means that Leadership styles have to change. Lean Leadership requires a bias for action, a proactive culture. Out goes silo mentality and in comes strong teamwork. In a strong Lean organisation, teams have clear aligned targets and team leaders are expected to measure their own success against those targets. If they are missing them, then they take actions to improve the process in question.

This requires a very different set of leadership skills to what you would expect in a more traditional ‘reactive’ organisation. Leaders will need to be trained and mentored in this new way of thinking. Invest the time and effort and Lean thinking will thrive.

  1. When there is a problem, go to the ‘Gemba’.

The ‘Gemba’ is where the actual work is done. Lean Leaders always observe the actual processes as they are performed, and talk to the people who perform them. They are the ones that know the finer details of how a process is performed and in many cases know the answer to the issue. If they do not know the answer then they always have information that will help solve the problem.  In a Lean organisation issues are not solved on a spreadsheet or in a meeting room.

Genchi gembutsu – go and see the actual event

  1. Communicate, communicate and then communicate again.

Introducing a new initiative like Lean, changing the way people are expected to work is a big undertaking. People are naturally nervous of change and the reasons for it. Make sure that communication is a two way process and listen. As Leaders ensure you over-communicate to offset the natural fear and build confidence.

  1. Learning by doing

Do not fall into the trap of thinking Lean is just another training exercise and that it’s introduction can be achieved by hiring a bunch of consultants to run one day classroom training courses. From a practical stand point most improvement activity is accomplished by using the simple tools from the Lean toolkit. Focus on training people in the discipline of seeing problems from a customer perspective and address them head-on.

The best way by far to get Lean embedded into an organisation is for the Leadership to let people try things. This of course needs to be done in a controlled manner without risk to the business. But sometimes Leaders need to back off and let people try for themselves. Learning by doing promotes a sense of inclusion, ownership and trust. If you do not try, you will not learn.

Quite often, Senior Leadership teams find this incredibly hard to do. This is because it involves letting go of some levels of control and devolving them downwards. But the benefits in adopting this approach far outweigh the negatives. I call this “freedom within a framework”

If you would like to understand how LMAC can help you move your Lean programme to the next level Contact us
Lean Lost in Translation


Although most people know that Lean is a generic term for the Toyota Production System, few people understand how much has been lost in translation. Japan study tours are common these days, and although Toyota allow visits to their sites, only the surface layer can be seen. To the untrained eye, it would be difficult to see tangible differences to a Nissan or Honda factory. In my experience, many people believe Japanese manufacturing is Lean – hence the japan study tours. I believe this to be a symptom of the loss in translation of lean, and the ongoing general focus on the “lean tools” rather than the “lean mind set”.

Are all Lean systems equal, or are some more equal than others?

I recently heard a comment from a governing body that in effect, the Nissan Production System and the Toyota Production system are “the same thing”.

Really?   Let’s not forget, in recent history, Nissan reportedly came very close to bankruptcy, and sold a significant shareholding to the Renault organisation. On the other hand, Toyota has been one of the few financially stable car manufacturers throughout its history.

I’ve conducted a couple of study tours myself recently to take a look at the different “takes” on Lean that have evolved.  One thing stood out very clearly – they generally fall into 1 of 2 generic groups:

  • Lean Tools Orientation

If I’m going to hear the saying “we’ve done lean”, then it will be an organisation in this group.  Yes, the key tools have been implemented at some point with varying degrees of uptake by the process operators.  Some tools, such as “stand-up” meeting boards are often coated with dust, displaying a distant historic date and old information that serves as a reminder of the failure of their Lean Programme.  Even a half trained eye can see masses of waste around the processes and massive opportunities for improvement. However, advice is not wanted in some of these organisations, “don’t talk to me about that Lean stuff and car manufacturing approach” has been blurted out to me on several occasions.

  • Lean Principles Orientation

These organisations seem to get it.  They’re sometimes the organisations that have been less hasty to jump in and “do that lean thing”.  They have taken the time to think about things and are confident that the Lean principles stand up well to logic and reason.  Some of them don’t have the flashiest 5S boards and andon systems yet, but they are doing the basics really well.

So in answer to my own question, it is clear that all Lean systems are not equal.  Some, in fact, are just poorly introduced tools.

So, what needs to be done?

This depends upon the organisation’s maturity level.  For those that are still in a tools frame of mind, I would advise reading up on the lean principles and challenging them at a senior leadership team level.  Do they stand up to reason?  Wouldn’t these principles enhance your organisation even though you don’t make cars?

For those that answer yes, then consider the following steps:

  • Start with “why”. Be very clear to the whole organisation why it needs to take a different approach and embrace the lean principles.
  • Empower the organisation to deliver. Not adhoc training courses or sheep dip training, but strategic people development.
  • Lead people to do the basics well every day. Relentlessly reinforce the lean principles and then hold people accountable for results delivery.

Remember, if lean fails it’s because it’s been “done” wrong.

7 wastes


Most people that have been involved in Lean will be familiar with the principles that waste exists to some degree in every single activity we perform. Whether it is at work or in our day to day business. And in order to improve our processes and become Lean, we must remove waste.

Most will also be aware that in general waste is split in 7 types or categories:

  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting
  • Over Production
  • Over Processing
  • Defects

Normally remembered by the acronym TIM WOOD.

But my question is this, how many realise that this is only part of the big picture in understanding ‘waste’, its effects and how to address it. TIM WOOD can only help us so far along our Lean journey.

To fully understand this we need to go back a step and really try to understand some of the core fundamentals of Lean. Let’s start at the very beginning and understand why the removal of wastes within processes is judged so important.

The single most important factor in developing a lean process is the ‘Voice of the customer’. Understanding what the customer needs, in what volume, and when it is needed.

Having understood this, the next step is to develop a system that will deliver to the customer needs on time, to the correct quality, in the right volume. Sounds simple but this is where the problems start. If the process is not flexible enough to meet the changes in customer demand, inefficiencies creep in and hence the level of waste within the process grow.

This is where most peoples understanding (including many lean practitioners) of waste starts to break down.

You may have heard the term ‘Muda’. Muda translated from Japanese is Waste. However this is only part of the story.

When Taiichi Ohno, Sakichi Toyoda, and Kiichiro Toyoda, originally set out to develop the Toyota production system, they recognised that the root causes of waste in a process were much deeper than many consider today.

They defined 3 types of waste, MUDA, MURA and MURI

What has happen is that Muda has been given much greater attention since over time it has been well defined into the 7 categories I mentioned earlier. Because of this, many Lean practitioners have learned to see just Muda, they fail to see in the same prominence the wastes of Mura (unevenness) and Muri (overburden). Whilst they are focused on getting their process under control they do not give enough time or consider to the impact of the other two types of waste.

So let’s take time to consider both Mura and Muri.

Mura or unevenness occurs at a number of levels within a process and needs to be taken into account when ‘Just in time’ is being put in place. Consider this, what happens when we reduce or remove inventory (one of our 7 classic wastes)?

Well, now that the safety buffer has been removed, the process will be put under strain to deliver in a much more responsive way. The entire value chain will be asked to flex up and down in speed. The impact of this change can be devastating to the organisation. Manning levels have to be adjusted (If cost and efficiency are to be maintained), Suppliers will be asked to change delivery schedules at short notice. Maintenance schedules may need to be changed. In fact a whole plethora of issues arise and all take time to manage. Also, because of the need to produce at peak volume at any time, in theory equipment, workers, inventory and all other elements required for production must always be prepared for peak production. This adds both cost and waste.

Unless systems and processes are put in place to do this, waste starts to creep back into the process.

Toyota considered this in the development of the Toyota production system. It took it into account with the concept of Heijunka or production smoothing. The concept of Heijunka may at first appear to contradict the ‘Just in time’ and lean production philosophies. But it must be remembered that done correctly small amounts of well managed strategic stock will both aid efficiency and lower overall cost.

In general, the concept of Heijunka is to try and smooth the production rate within acceptable limits. There are a number of tools and tricks to this which are again linked to the original thoughts behind the Toyota production system.

For example, Toyota’s final assembly line never assembles the same automobile model in a batch. Production is levelled by making first one model, then another model, then yet another. The pattern or order of the 3 models is then adjusted to smooth the daily rate based on customer demand (take time). This flexibility is one of the key reasons for having a mixed model process. But in order to achieve this Standard, work must be well defined and implemented otherwise the waste of ‘MURI’ will be the issue.

Muri or overburden, generally occurs when Standard work is not well defined or when additional tasks have been placed upon someone through a process change without consideration to their other workload or line balance.

Within most companies it is the case, but the importance of Standard Work cannot be underestimated. A smooth process with well trained people has a number of other benefits. When everyone knows the standard condition, and the standardised work sequences, heightened morale is seen. Normally along with improved quality, improved productivity and reduced costs.

So when you are next observing a process for waste, look a little deeper. Look for the 3 M’s consider MURA and MURI and think deeper than just the classic 7 wastes.

Want to know more ?

If you would like to know more about Muda, Mura, and Muri or would like to know how LMAC could help your business with its Lean programme   Contact us