Lean Management is not just a long-term approach!

Lean Management current misunderstandings:

There are different ways of implementing Lean Management. These obviously differ from company to company, from country to country or continent to continent. As a matter of facts there are local different cultures of understanding and misunderstandings of what Lean management is and how to implement it.


These cultures relayed and developed over the years, perhaps for lack of standard, unfortunately has the consequence today of generating about Lean Management local common and shared certainties, some are today even very far from the fundamentals of Lean, that either on the principles, the achievable results, the time it takes to implement it within the company and the positive impacts Lean could have on employees.


Regarding the duration and the time necessary for the implementation of Lean in a company, this can vary from a few weeks to a few years, for the same company, whatever its size, the complexity of its organization, and the complexity of its products.


We see today and in a traditional way attempts to implement Lean in many companies that take place over many months or even years. These approaches are often an implementation of Lean tools or Lean elements more or less through a dissociated manner, by theme, by function, by priority (often linked to the complexity of implementation) and managed through a multitude of disconnected sub-projects. In that case, the expected results of improving the performances of the company will only be visible (if they are one day and if the company and the management does not run out of steam in the meantime) only over a horizon of a few years.


We also often see a fashion effect where it is considered important for the company to implement Lean to avoid a competitive disadvantage compared to what does or what competitors do in terms of Lean implementation, and not really a leadership to create customer value and to gain new market shares.

Root causes of current misunderstandings:

Many companies have or are indeed applying Lean tools, but few managed to reap the benefits that Toyota, United Technologies, Caterpillar, 3M, GE and others have achieved.


As a matter of facts and according to recent surveys :

  • Lean is primarily view as cost reduction initiative not as a market domination strategy as it should
  • Less than 20% of companies are successful with Lean
  • Thousands of companies worldwide have been engaged in the Lean transformation, most have achieved modest levels of improvement (50% don't get it, 35% get it partially, 15% get it )
  • Their ability to achieve a Lean transformation across the enterprise is severely limited by the implementation process.

Typical common Industry misunderstanding about Lean Management :

  • Seen as a series of tools deployment vs system thinking
  • Tool deployment vs process (or value stream) improvement
  • Lean wording and solutions not linked to business wording and issues
  • Considered as nice to have activities not as a key strategic initiative
  • Continuous improvement vs breakthrough performance improvements
  • Improvers silo organization not linked with business
  • Poor communication at all levels 

The problem tends to be probably more related to how Lean is deployed, rather than its applicability

Time to implement :

No Lean Management is not just a long-term approach!


Unlike some current shared beliefs, the implementation of Lean can take place over a few weeks or even days.


As an example of major and rapid business transformation through Lean Management, we can mention this American corporation whose name appears as a success story and benchmark of deployment in several books on Lean Management, 200,000 employees, highly technical organization and complex products, presence in 150 countries.


We started from a prioritization system at “company” level, to identify rapidly the most inoperative processes (operational or support) to be improved, according to a set of pre-defined criteria such as impact on customer satisfaction and process efficiency. The improvement objectives were then established by the process owner of the process and validated by the Kaizen team. The appointment (10 days after for a Kaizen workshop of support process and 15 days after for a Kaizen workshop of operational process - manufacturing, logistics, etc. was then made (appointment made on the first day of the kaizen workshop) with the Executive Committee of the company for a restitution by the team.


During this restitution the entire team presented NOT AN ACTION PLAN but actually what HAS BEEN IMPLEMENTED (with facts and figures such as photos, indicators, documents, etc.), during the opening time of the Kaizen workshop, that is to say in 10 days for the support process or 15 days for the operational process. During the opening time of Kaizen workshops were included the mapping and analysis of the existing process, the identification of non-value added and variations of the process generating non-quality, as well as improvement solutions to reach the improvement objectives, mapping of the new process and its physical implementation without impacting current operations. That is to say, during the reconfiguration of production lines for example, subcontracting companies intervened at night, piloted by members of the Kaizen team, so as not to impact production.


This way of deploying Lean on critical company processes has been repeated on most of processes, by priority, thus creating a proven way of deploying Lean, a "Lean Operating System". It was called sometime after ACE (Achieving Competitive Excellence) which is now known worldwide.


This company achieved major results in a few months following the implementation of Lean Management, in terms of productivity, world-class quality of products and services, market share and profitability. The financial operating margin increased from 4% to 20% in a few months, the savings made were around 5 billion dollars per year.


Likewise, there are many articles today on the negative impact that Lean can have on employees, and which are far from the fundamentals of Lean Management. Lean is the opposite of the Taylorian approaches that were practiced in years 1900.


The fundamental principles of Lean are to put the employee at the heart of value creation. It is them who generate the transformed value of products or services. The whole company, whatever the level in the organization, must allow this creation of value. This approach can be represented by an inverted pyramid where the base of the pyramid is the top management of the company.


Everything must be done to allow this creation of value. In this way employees are considered, listened to, supported, not blamed and being pointed, as happens too often in many companies.


As for productivity, it is only by improving production systems that we can improve it significantly, not by putting pressure on employees to produce more!



In the example cited above, the implementation of Lean resulted in employee satisfaction by generating a sense of belonging to the company. This has enabled the development of a dynamic and positive culture for improvement within the company  where employees were at the center of this culture !

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