A True Lean Organization: The Hardware and Software of Lean

A True Lean Organization: The Hardware and Software of Lean

When companies of all sizes commit to becoming a lean organization they enthusiastically embark on implementing 5-S, kanban cards, standard work, kaizen events, visual management, etc. Around six to 12 months later, these same companies often abandon most of their lean initiatives and return to doing business as usual; push production, cluttered work areas, and excessive inventory.

Where did they go wrong? Why does a business system with such proven benefits result in (as some studies suggest) a greater than 70% failure rate (Rubrich, Larry. How to Prevent Lean Implementation Failures: 10 Reasons Why Failures Occur)?

It all has to do with where the work begins.

Organizations often focus on what is called the “hardware” of lean; the tools that attract the most attention in books and articles. The 5-S, kanban cards, standard work, kaizen events, visual management “stuff.” It is easy to understand why, as these tools provide an almost immediate, visual improvement. They can be measured, analyzed, and understood; all things that management love.

Rather, these organizations need to focus their attention on the “software” of lean: the human portion of lean that makes it sustainable. As team members train in problem solving and the use of PDCA or DMAIC, they become lean professionals. They learn how to identify problems, determine a root-cause, and develop countermeasures that will keep the problem from returning. It is crucial that team members focus on the work they perform; as this focus will help ensure success of the entire lean initiative.

Toyota developed the Lean “hardware” tools out of the necessity to solve problems. Where a particular tool was not needed, it was not implemented; and this principle still holds true today in many Toyota processes.

Once implemented these tools must be nurtured and maintained as they will follow the Law of Entropy; or the law that all systems tend to fall out of order. If the team member is unskilled in how to solve problems, lean will not survive.

So whether you are an OEM supplier or a small job shop a long way down the supply chain, start with the “software” of lean – the training and development of team members. And when these team members have the skills, knowledge, and training to solve problems systematically for the work that they do, and this work is in alignment with the goals and objectives of the organization, only then can the company truly begin to call themselves a lean organization.

Written by David Hall, Lean Deployment Engineer at LeanCor

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