Sunday, January 13, 2013

5 Ways to Build a Lean House of Cards (WARNING: Lots of Sarcasm)

It is my contention that the reason why so many companies struggle and fail implementing lean (develop a culture of continuous continuous improvement) is that they sabotage their progress every other step of the way. Here are five things off the top of my head to ensure your lean journey is short and sweet (an overnight bag will suffice):
1. Don't include everyone. In fact, make lean a department. Or a special program. Have the department go into the different areas of the operation and fix stuff for the workers. People love when people come in and tell them new ways to do the jobs they've been doing for years.
2. Or, make it mandatory for all. It is way too much work to convince everyone that it is valuable. In fact, let a few of the "doubting Thomases" go! If they don't buy in right away, make an example of them. Or say "because I said so, that's why! alot.  
2. Keep track of all improvements using terms like "return on investment" or "dollars saved". Emphasize money often. That way, people will begin to understand what is important. As a matter of fact, make sure you squash any improvement activity that doesn't have the potential to yield X.  
3. Limit the amount of time people from different departments are thinking and learning together. After all, the really smart ones are the ones with advanced degrees in the office, right? What kind of wisdom could a machine operator or a shipping clerk possibly share? (A good strategy is to have people get green belts alone, on-line, and give them a deadline to achieve them). If people are thinking and learning together too much, they just end up giving each other ideas.
4.  Make sure Senior Leadership does not DEMONSTRATE lean is the business strategy and that it is important. In fact, their typical day shouldn't change much at all. The changing we're after is for the people who add value to the product, not the management team! Instead of asking lots of questions, make sure they give lots of answers. Make sure they don't coach much. Have them do lots of reports instead. And lots of meetings behind closed doors. Of course, they don't need to really understand those crazy concepts, that's for the Lean Department! To make sure everyone understands that getting better isn't important, tell the lean department to schedule periodic lean events 6-7 times per year. Max.
5.  Seldom acknowledge, thank, congratulate or celebrate the efforts and achievements as people make progress toward flow. (we don't want them to get too cocky-that's why they get a paycheck, right, that's their thank you). Or, wait until the occasional company meeting to acknowledge one or two of them.  

That is just a starter set of things to help sabotage your progress toward becoming a true learning organization. Please feel free to add another one or two that I could share. (the more sarcastic the better!)


  1. Ignore suggestions. Those are just complaints from people not wanting to do their jobs. Allow the engineers and scientist to improve every process, after all they get paid the big bucks. Oh! And once they fix the problems, insist that they never follow up with the person(s) affected by said change. This way, the smart people are not wasting too much time on the shop floor.

  2. Oh my God that is absolutely beautiful. I just might need to dedicate an entire future blog to that House of Cards suggestion. THANK YOU so much!