Do not wait for the “real work,” the physical changes of a Lean implementation to be done before turning your attention to implementing the management system. Your Lean implementation depends on it to survive! Think of it this way: in successful brownfield mass-to-lean conversions, no more than 20 percent of the effort involves the typical “what you see is what you get” physical changes. You
install new layouts to establish flow, begin pull signaling, develop ways to pace production, and so on. An advanced version of an initial implementation would also include features such as visual methods to track production, start-up meetings, and standardized work posted at workstations. But all that only gets you to the 20 percent level at most, and the likelihood of disappointment with the staying
power of the changes you have implemented and disappointment in results the new system produces. You might come to the conclusion that Lean production does not really fit with your business model, culture, or industry, or some similar explanation.
Well, of course a Lean implementation that’s only 20 percent complete is not going to be so hot. You have done only the easiest fifth of the process! The remaining 80 percent of the required time and effort is made up of tasks that are less obvious and much more demanding. After the design/implementation project team finishes and moves on, a very different, more subtle sort of rearrangement remains to be done. As a leader, many things change for you: the information you need to rely on, your deeply ingrained work habits, your day-to-day and hour-to-hour routines, and the way you think about managing work and productivity. All of these and more have to be transformed for your Lean implementation to be a long-term success.
You have probably heard over and over that Lean is a journey. It is true, but the journey truly begins in earnest after the production floor has been rearranged. Most of the journey is internal, a mental calibration and adjustment to a Lean world. On this journey you learn to impose on yourself the same kind of disciplined adherence to process you now expect of operators in following their
standardized work. As you continue on the journey you learn to focus with near obsessive intensity on the processes in your system. You learn to trust that results will take care of themselves when you take care of the process.
Without this internal work, the most typical outcome of Lean implementations is to reinforce old habits and ways of thinking. As with any new system, when the Lean process is turned on, a variety of problems suddenly appear. Without a Lean management system in place to support the new physical arrangements, people are left to rely on their old tricks for fooling the system, using familiar workarounds to get themselves out of trouble. This is as true for leaders as it is for operators. It is a path that leads swiftly away from a successful Lean conversion.
Worse, once you have realized your mistake, it is an uphill battle to convince people that you are serious this time and will stick with the change. Most often, the result is merely a different layout. The promising Lean system becomes one more sad entry in the roster of failed change projects.
Why is it that so many attempts to convert to lean, end in retreat and disappointment? It is a paradox: So many Lean implementations fail because Lean is too easy! That is, it is too easy to implement the physical trappings of Lean production while failing completely to notice the need for a parallel implementation of Lean management. It is too easy just to keep on managing the way we always have.
Instead, for the new physical production process to be a success, managers must change from the habitual focus on results to quite a different and less obvious focus on process and all it entails
Lean Management Focuses on Process
The Lean management system consists of the discipline, daily practices, and tools you need to establish and maintain a persistent, intensive focus on process. It is the process focus that sustains and extends Lean implementations. Little by little, almost unnoticeably, Lean culture grows from these practices as they become habitual. A Lean culture emerges as leaders replace the mindset learned in our
careers in batch-and-queue manufacturing.