Why is Lean So Difficult Part III – Momentum


In the last two series of “Why Lean is So Difficult” we introduced the concepts of why it is difficult and took a deeper dive into one of the reasons – Strategy.  Now we’ll take a look at the second factor on why Lean efforts fail often and that’s the momentum of the effort.  First let’s frame what we are talking about when we say Lean effort.  This is a sustained effort to transform your business.  This can take years to implement successfully and you are in it for the long haul.  It can also be that you are trying to see if Lean is right for your organization and you want to give it the best chance for success.  If you are just doing one or two projects and have no intentions of continuing then this is not a relevant discussion point.  

Momentum is how fast you decide to implement projects in your organization.  Here are two opposite ends of the spectrum. 

After Market Car Parts Manufacturer

The manufacturer wanted to start doing Lean however didn’t want to move quickly.  They decided to start with the inventory management of their intake valves.  They decided to start in the small portion of their business and see how it would progress from there.  About 2% of their workforce was involved in the Lean project.  They did the event and had great success saving 40% in inventory and reducing the total amount of processing time by 35%.  This was a great win however the company decided that they didn’t want to move forward with more Lean projects till after their busy season this year.  The next year came around and they never picked up the Lean initiatives again due to other priorities coming up.

Family Practice Clinic

The practice was very busy and they would see about 40-75 patients a day per doctor.  The clinic wanted to go Lean and they jumped head first in trying to do improvement events.  They first started with a 5s effort for the office which took a week then immediately the next week went on to doing visual controls, and the third week they worked on the process flow of the paperwork.  They spent three out of four weeks doing process improvement and about 90% of their staff was involved in one way or another.  They gained some successes however their patient load dropped during the three weeks so the Doctors decided not to continue since it was hurting their business.  


Speed of Lean Transformation Chart

The chart above gives us a heuristic as to how fast we should be moving through a Lean transformation.  This is a general rule of thumb and will vary case by case.  In our after market auto manufacturer we found that they were moving too slow.  They had about 2% of their work force spending less than 10% of their time on improvements.  This puts them in the red zone (and off the chart).  The family practice clinic moved too quickly.  they had about 90% of their people focused on change 75% of the time putting them in the red zone on the other end of the spectrum.  The manufacturer didn’t have enough momentum to sustain Lean efforts and it died off and the clinic moved too quickly and it hurt business which cause the Lean effort to die off.  The focus should be on balancing the pace of change with the business needs.

Related Blog Posts:

How Quickly Should You Roll Out a Lean Transformation

Why is Lean So Difficult Part I

Why is Lean so Difficult Part II – Strategy

Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Daily Meetings

Why Lean Fails Webinar

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About the Author:

Ankit Patel is a Managing Partner for The Lean Way Consulting and is based in the greater Atlanta GA area.  He combines his skills and expertise in Lean and Six Sigma that he gained in large and small manufactures as well as hospital systems with organizational development.  By doing this he is able to get stunning results for his clients that far exceed industry norms.

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