Restart, renew your Lean transition

Five checklist items to begin rekindling the power of Lean.


After starting your organization's Lean journey armed with strategic plans, plus a boatload of tools and concepts, not to mention your splashy kickoff announcement, something unexpected may have happened: The whole shebang fizzled. So what's your next move? You can recharge your Lean transition. Use this checklist as you begin rekindling the power of Lean:

First: Build a culture of collaboration and trust
Start by involving senior management. It is crucial that senior management supports the folks expected to carry out the proposed changes. Provide Lean basics training for senior leadership and their direct reports, in addition to people in plant and administrative areas. Develop or hire trainers who can deliver standardized process improvement education/training that will withstand current challenges as well as tomorrow's market fluctuations. An increasing number of organizations look to Training Within Industry (TWI) modules, for example, as means to ensure continuing performance gains.

Second: Communicate effectively, non-stop
Find ways to reach individuals and teams "where they live," with clear and consistent messages about day-by-day Lean progress. You're looking for continuing improvements that add up to significant organizational performance gains, rather than yesterday's end-of-the-month fire-fighting heroics. For some employees, including senior managers, the relentless commitment to sometimes incremental process improvements is a radical, new approach. Nurture a sense of shared accountability and accomplishment through one-on-one meetings, all-hands updates, company intranet posts, bulletin boards, shift meetings, newsletters and other communications. Then repeat, repeat, repeat.

Third: Encourage innovation
Remember when engineers, techs and top execs had a lock on new products and processes? Times have changed. Manufacturers such as MillerCoors Brewery in Eden, NC, for example, build Lean, learning organizations through enterprise-wide, shared best practices and innovation. Teams and individuals at the Eden site, and throughout the MillerCoors organization, continually seek better ways to transform and improve their work practices and culture. As employees accept new tasks, including accountability for improvement against well-defined goals, they creatively enable the organization to achieve its targets and build flexibility for future challenges.

Fourth: Create shared learning cycles
Daily, systematic improvements add up to significant performance gains, over time. Learn to love the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) approach, whether you're seeking progress on the plant floor, in office functions, field service, warehouse and distribution etc. The pattern and practice of methodically identifying target conditions and potential obstacles, planning and carrying out next-step improvements and then learning from each step along the way enables consistent progress, according to Mike Rother, author of the book, Toyota Kata. Such achievements are enhanced with effective coaching by trained facilitators, plus active support/recognition by senior leadership. You're also building a cadre of continual learners whose shared capabilities will drive your organization's competitive advantage.

Fifth: Coach, measure progress and build momentum for change
Leading change requires more, and sometimes less, of senior executives. More involvement and coaching, more personal involvement and visible participation in employees' and teams' Lean improvement activities. Let go of traditional, top-down, authoritarian directives. Use policy deployment, collaboratively developing and cascading strategies/goals throughout the organization. In this way, you are creating feedback opportunities that will net innovative improvement ideas and new Lean learnings. Recognize performance improvement milestones, fostering teamwork and engagement at all levels. Your long-term, unwavering support for this approach can inspire the best, brightest ideas and efforts of employees at all levels in your organization. Such collaborative understanding and learning will help your company weather the inevitable market challenges and hiccups. You're on your way to sustainable, Lean progress that will help to ensure your company's success!

An article in the Summer 2014 issue of AME’s Target magazine, “Shared Learning, Documented Improvements; Continuing  Progress Toward World-class Manufacturing and a Learning Organization,” provides additional information about the MillerCoors Eden, NC site’s lean strategy deployment and transformation. In the same issue of Target, the article, “A Kata for PDCA” by Mike Rother and Jeff Liker offers details on developing scientific thinking in any organization.

Paul Kuchuris is the president of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME). Edited by Brittany Merchut, Project Manager, CFE Media, bmerchut(at)

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