Friday, May 27, 2011

Failure Modes in Lean Implementation

By Al Norval

I wrote an earlier blog about failure modes in Lean Implementation in which I described two of the most common failure modes. Both dealt with Leadership.

The first was leaders not recognizing Lean as a cultural change within the organization and the second one was Leaders not changing themselves and delegating Lean Implementation to others.

The two are related in that Lean culture is about discovering problems, solving problems and sharing the learning across the organization. Being a cultural change there is a need for Senior Leaders to lead the way by modelling the new behaviours and making it OK for the rest of the organization to change. The culture change then cascades outwards from examples set by the Leadership team.

So what are some of the changes in their behaviours that Leaders need to make?

They need to let the Lean Mental Models guide their behaviour and change their existing routines. Here’s a few to get started:

- Leader as a Teacher

- Go to Gemba

- Make problems visible

By Going to Gemba and seeing for yourself, Leaders put themselves in a position to act as Leader as a Teacher. Be seeing problems and treating them as gold – to be treasured, they set the tone for the organization. People quickly pick up on these new behaviours and the culture begins to change. See a problem, solve a problem; share the learning becomes the mantra of the organization. Improvement occurs at a faster and faster pace. Everyone jumps on board.

Think of the possibilities.

Sadly, this doesn’t occur as often as it should. Leaders do what they have always done. Improvement occurs, changes are made but sustaining is an issue and soon we’re back to the way things always were.

The choice seems obvious. Why is it so difficult?


  1. Another failure mode that management runs into in the beginning has to do with Gemba walks. Too often we see people making huge lists of things that are wrong. These lists are then handed off to someone else to fix. This causes overburden and an opportunity for training is lost. Simply finding one problem then cooperatively resolving it with the area team members gives better results. As people learn how you solve problems, they will feel more comfortable taking problems on themselves. Leader as Teacher works...

  2. Denis brings up a very key point........'going to the GEMBA' is often misused, if even used at all. Pascal's comments about Leaders being the key demonstrators of the Mental Models is right on and in order to do that they have to, of course, use one of the Mental Models and go to the GEMBA in order to get to that teachable moment with their organization. This is where the misuse occurs: if Leaders go to the GEMBA at all it is often without direction or purpose and it just becomes industrial tourism rather than using the time strategically to understand the real condition and build capability in the greater organization.

  3. Go to Gemba witha a purpose - what a novel concept!
    The purpose of Going to Genba is:
    - Go see for yourself
    - Show respect for Team Members
    - Reinforce the vallues & standads of the organiztion.

    Easy to say but hard to do