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Lean management programs implemented in businesses such as Toyota Kata are beneficial on so many levels, however getting them implemented is where the hardest work is required. During workshops, many of the participants felt it was worthwhile learning the programs, they also felt a little resentful that all the new information was being ‘pushed down their throats’.

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Implementing new programs require a specific sequence of steps that a company is expected to complete and report progress on. Many which meant changing the way things had previously been done, all in the name of standardization. At the same time as implementing lean programs, companies continued to be measured on performances separate to the lean management audit measures – financial, delivery and quality etc. The measures were generally ones provided by the top-level executives who wanted a way for corporate headquarters to monitor the success of the lean management practices in a way they could understand, rather than ones everyone could understand.

Implementing lean management programs generally involve steps such as:

  •    Developing a kind of ‘implementation program’ and rolling out throughout the business
  •    Developing a ‘value stream map’ and a plan
  •    Auditing and assessing the plan against a checklist of requirements
  •    Monitoring the level of activity

All which are being pushed down from above, rather than developing their leaders to better bring on board departmental workers. The top-level executives believe if they just explain the steps well enough, then it will be understood and taken on without issue. Creating models and diagrams that explain how everything works, and the relations between tools assuming that will be sufficient for managers and workers to implement.

The underlying thought process of push movements is ‘improving because you can, not because you must’. with symptoms such as a project plan with milestones of when a tool is implemented, rather than how successful it is adopted within the business.  

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An obstacle many companies experience with this approach is the traditional relationship to the status quo – the need to evaluate change against the financial return based on the cost. When calculating the cost of taking the company from its current level of performance to a new level, the return of investment must pass a financial threshold before they are willing to change the status quo.   

For lean practitioners such as myself, this can present a problem, trying to convince management that there is a short-term return on implementing what we are proposing. For example, projects such as Six Sigma black belts, are intently focused on high-cost benefit, and companies need reassurance that the expense involved in bringing in a consultant will be worth it. Companies will be happy to look at what improvements can be made, but will then direct the discussion to the financial benefit, when in reality the benefits rarely reach the profit and loss statements – unless there is already a business plan in place to take advantage of the improvements.

The root cause of this financial benefit thinking is more than likely the disconnected between continuous improvement and the challenges within the company, with many believing improvements can be implemented with a plan on a predictable timeline. If you are in need of process improvement, contact us today to schedule a time to chat.