The Continuous Improvement (Lean) Paradox Part I
The goal for many companies is the always improve their business. So naturally this mean some sort of continuous improvement program being launched. Let’s take a look at some statistics on Lean or other Continuous Improvement methods and how they actually look in companies.
- 70% of manufacturing plants are currently doing Lean (or another process improvement method) [Industry Week Survey 2008]
- 2% of the companies that are doing Lean fully achieved what they expected [Industry Week Survey 2008]
This means there are several reasons why we can’t sustain a continuous improvement culture. Anecdotally you can see this in action when you go to a company that has a continuous improvement “flavor of the month.” Eventually teams realize that this too shall pass and they will hurt your chances form making improvement in the future. Another example is when you have a portion of the organization that is excited but a Lean effort only to have it stopped by a senior manager or a special circumstance that stops the culture in its tracks. While a company might say they are committed to continuous improvement they are really expressing behaviors that are keep them from changing anything at all. The paradox is that we can generally agree continuous improvement is good but our behaviors don’t demonstrate that.
An analogy to think about is your immune system. Your immune system is designed to keep you healthy and attack any foreign body that enters your blood stream to maintain homeostasis. Similarly a company will have an “immune response” to a new Lean or continuous improvement effort and there will be people who will consciously or unconsciously try to keep the company where it currently is for any multitude of reasons. This is a natural reaction to change and should be viewed as just part of the process. Some of the common reasons why Lean efforts fail include:
- Lack of execution
- No support form senior leadership
- The culture didn’t change and rejected a Lean culture
- Lack of Support
- The “immune response” can manifest as appearing that you don’t have the right people on board
So here you have an organization that has fine-tuned to do exactly what it does in its current state and then you introduce Lean and all of the sudden your organization has an immune response (unintentionally) to bring it back to homeostasis. This helps to get a better idea of why a Lean or contentious improvement culture is hard to create. You have a willingness to do things differently but you have this entire machine and natural response that exists to keep things the same. In the next article we will talk about how you can diagnose what your immune response might be.
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