The Continuous Improvement (Lean) Paradox Part II




In The Continuous Improvement (Lean) Paradox Part I we talked about how only 2% of companies that start Lean get the results they expected.  In part II we’ll talk about bridging the gap between expectations and results.  We talked about the reasons why Lean efforts fail and not a single reason was around the fact that there wasn’t enough technical training or knowledge.  Every reason was a behavioral reason.  Weather it was senior management not supporting the effort or the current culture rejected the new culture.  The common theme is that there is an “immune” response with the organization that prevents the organization from changing.  The immune responses are actions that individuals and/or groups are taking that go directly against what is needed for change to happen.  These are usually not intentional and do not have bad intent they are however very powerful reactions.

I’ll share with you a story from my own personal experiences.  The director of engineering (Ed) and the director of operations (Bill) were working together to redo the returns process for a large multinational computer company.  The director of engineering wanted to do a traditional design approach based on existing equipment and traditional design constraints.  The Vice President (Sandy) who was Ed’s and Bill’s boss decided that the teams should use a Lean process to design the new facilities.  Bill was bought into the process and brought in consultants to help with the transformation.  Ed pretended to go along with the process however he had his team keep pursing the traditional designs with the assumption that the new process would fail.  Ed made this decision to mitigate the risks just in case the Lean process didn’t work.  By doing this the engineering team would have been spread thin and would have really hurt the Lean design efforts.  This is an example of an immune response.  Ed unintentionally was sabotaging the Lean process because of his concerns and wanting to mitigate risks.  If the new process didn’t work as planned or if timeline wasn’t meet then Ed felt he would have been blamed.  So you can see it is very easy to trigger one’s immune response.  We ended up having a conversation with Sandy, Ed, and Bill all in the room and once we found out what Ed was doing.  He was assured that he wouldn’t be blamed and to trust the process.  After this conversation Ed was did not impede the progress of the team and eventually became a champion of Lean once he saw the results.

The immune response can happen at any level from the line employee to the CEO and board of directors.  So if it’s something that occurs at all levels of the organization then how do we overcome it to have a successful Lean transformation?  Here are a list of tools to help and in later parts of this series we’ll go into detail about each of these tools.

  • Co-create the future together with as many people as possible involved so they feel that they have a voice.
  • Create a common vision or burning platform to help align everyone.  A common vision is much more sustainable in the long run.  
  • Robert Kegan’s book Immunity to Change has a fantastic protocol on how to address these changes and is great form an individual level.
  • Base progress on actions and results vs. rhetoric and procedures.
  • The faster you can implement with a large group of people the higher the probability of success.
  • Kaizen events will have the highest rate of success for you when implementing.
  • Use our tool on where to start a Lean initiative and rate several areas to find where you should start your projects to gain momentum.
  • Have an outsider presence to help with the process of change.  It is very difficult to change things are very close to us so having some outside influence helps with objectivity.

For a more in depth discussion of this and other topics be sure to sign up for our conference calls

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