What is a Lean Transformation?


While some benefits are immediate, a Lean Transformation is the journey by which a company becomes the Lean entity that it yearns to be – one that continually assesses customer needs, delivers ever better customer value and does both with minimal expenditure of a company’s materials, time and effort.

A successful Lean Transformation engages your entire organization. The result is a happier, healthier organization, with reduced employee turnover and a better bottom line.

If I tried to lead my company’s Lean Transformation, my motives would have been suspect.
Ken Wilson, Chief Operating Officer, The Christie Cookie Company, Nashville, TN

The importance of sensei.

This kind of corporate change depends first and foremost on two key people:

  • An internal Lean champion – someone from within the company, perhaps you, who is committed to and capable of implementing change.
  • A Lean sensei – an experienced mentor from outside the company who can inspire the company’s people and help them and the Lean champion determine and implement the desired changes.

The vast majority of U.S. workers, 70%, are “not engaged” or [are] “actively disengaged” at work, meaning they are emotionally disconnected from their workplace and are less likely to be productive.
The Gallop Blog, June 11, 2013

How changing from the inside out inspires desired behavior.

People have to believe what they’re doing is effective. The most effective Lean Transformations occur when the workers themselves, not management, are inspired to desire change and create the plans and processes for achieving it.

Inspiring this desire is the job of the Lean sensei. Workers can be either motivated by fear (“we’re in desperate straits and must change to survive”) or inspired by shared aspirations (“we all want to be more successful”).

Both approaches work. A fear-based change may produce an initial result, but it won’t last. A positive approach that employs cutting-edge techniques like Appreciative Inquiry and Emotional Intelligence, such as practiced by The Lean Way Consulting, nearly always yields more consistent, longer lasting desired behavior.

Eleven components of a successful Lean Transformation.

Based on our experience, we have found the following components to be essential for success:


  • Include both a technical component (get results) and a behavioral component (change people’s behavior).
  • Build from either a burning platform or a shared aspiration or vision. For more lasting results, build from a shared aspiration.
  • Start small with manageable projects that are similar in scope.
  • To gain momentum, start with a project that aligns strategic goals and performance goals. Have a strategy and stick to it.
  • Hire a sensei – an outside facilitator who specializes in change or Lean, not a specialist in your industry. You want someone who is an expert in the process, not the subject matter.
  • Change is non-linear. Some steps forward and some steps back.
  • Change takes time. A true makeover of a company with 100 employees can take four to five years.
  • Select resonant leaders from within your company to lead the change. These are people with high emotional quotients (EQ’s) and a high level of competence in their job. The Lean Way Consulting can help you find and coach the right people.
  • Be inclusive of people from as many parts of the company as possible and inform everyone of what you are doing and why.
  • Be flexible with your methodology. Don’t be married to specific Lean methods or Six Sigma tools. Do what works for you and your people. Even the best methodology will fail if your company is not ready for it.
  • Since learning organizations have the most success in a Lean Transformation, encourage learning throughout the process, based on theory, simulation, reflection and actual implementation.

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