10 Signs You Should Reboot Your Lean Program!

Lean Program

How many people make a New Year’s resolution to adopt a Lean program and “Lean” yourself out only to abandon it shortly thereafter?

One of the top New Year’s resolutions is to start exercising. In January the local gyms are filled. But by February those gyms are much emptier and many of those well meaning people are still at home.

What do you do when your Lean program at work suffers the same fate? How do you know when your improvement program needs to be improved?

The Starting Point!

When I first joined the company I toured all the facilities around the world. In my experience it was always better to physically see the operations. Learning about the operation from powerpoint slides was quick but ineffective.

I also believe that when you tour a facility it is better not to take the “Tourist” tour. The “Tourist” tour is one wherein you are shown all the highlights of an operation. And in a quick and somewhat superficial manner.

I always instruct the people I am with to give me an in depth tour. I want to understand the actual workings of an operation, not just the highlights.

In this case one of the areas I wanted to understand was whether or not there was a Lean program in operation. From what I could see in most facilities there was evidence that Lean was being practiced. And they had also merged Six Sigma with their Lean program.

Lean process flow

I was shown examples of Kaizen events. I saw a version of a Gemba board in every facility. And I could see some focus on continuous improvement. I completed my first tour of the facilities thinking that I wasn’t starting from scratch with Lean deployment.

Time Will Tell What Is Really Going On!

Over time however weaknesses in the Lean program became apparent. When I would ask the facilities for some summary of metrics showing progress the results were very inconsistent. When I would ask for every facility to report on activity they had in progress the results were spotty. And when I would ask for roadmaps on improvement plans they were virtually nonexistent.

I decided to interject myself into the Regional and Global Lean Council meetings. At the Regional level there was some evidence of Kaizen activity but it was sporadic. Some facilities would be reporting on continuous improvement activity but it happened occasionally. Other facilities had no continuous improvement activity at all.

At the Global level I learned that the Lean Council meeting had not even happened for some time. Participants across the globe had never even met. And there was no sharing of information or progress anywhere.

The Lean program was broken. And it needed a reboot.

Signs That Your Lean Program May Need A Reboot!

So what were the signs that the Lean program wasn’t working as effectively as it should have been?

1. Lack of Metrics and Reporting

If your organization has no standard set of metrics your Lean program has room to improve. Further the reporting of those metrics should be consistent and reviewed on a regular basis. Visibility to the metrics should thus be an additional catalyst for more improvement as well as shared learning.

2. Program Practiced By Very Few Employees

Lean should be embedded in the daily operation of your organization. It should involve all employees across all functional areas. If your Lean program involves only a few employees trained on Lean techniques then your program is underserved.

3. Training Overview with Learning through Self Practice

Your training program should not be a unidirectional lecture series. A deeper understanding of Lean tools should involve training accompanied by application of those techniques. The experience of using these tools is the real training, not just watching a powerpoint presentation.

4. Lack of Management Focus/Drive/Awareness

Management must lead by example. If Management does not show interest in the Lean program then it will atrophy. Visibility of the importance of Lean from Management to all Employees is key to build a Lean based culture.

5. Tools Complicated With Lean and Six Sigma Combined

Lean and Six Sigma both have their place in driving continuous improvement. In my experience there are situations in which one technique is best suited over another. Especially if your program is faltering you may find it better to simplify your efforts. This may mean adopting Lean for instance in preference to Six Sigma to get your initiative back on track.

6. Project Based Deployment Not Day To Day Way of Being

Your Lean program is intended to be a part of the culture that runs throughout your organization. If you treat Lean as a series of incongruous projects you have turned it into discrete events. Lean thinking and application must be a part of how your operations run every minute of every day.

7. Lack of Discipline/Accountability

Governance of your Lean program is necessary to ensure that it stays on track. Gemba board reviews should happen on every shift. Kaizens should be conducted regularly. Participation should be mandatory. And everyone must be held accountable and measured on their contributions to your Lean improvement program. Otherwise busy people will get distracted with different things. And your Lean program will falter.

8. Visibility Limited To Project Completion

There was a situation wherein there was no reporting on any Lean project until it was completed. Given that many projects can take a considerable amount of time to finish there was a large information vacuum. There was also no opportunity to understand progress and help overcome obstacles and address issues. The result was that Lean was viewed as a very slow, cumbersome, and lengthy process.

9. No Shared Learning

The Lean program should be a platform for sharing learning and experiences across your entire organization. Without this sharing any improvements made in any one area are isolated to that area. A hallmark of a High Performance Organization is that it is a Learning organization. Information silos will undermine your plans for Lean cultural change.

10. Projects Are Only Presented If Successful

Projects will end up delivering varying results. Some projects will be wildly successful. Others will fall short of expectations. Still others will stall out altogether. Whatever the result everyone is gaining experience and learning. It is important to recognize everyone’s contribution and to learn from what works and what doesn’t work. You can learn a lot from those projects which do not succeed.


Your Lean program requires constant attention. You can not roll out a Lean initiative and just let it take its own course. Over time it will atrophy without leadership and direction setting. And people will develop a negative view of Lean as you have deployed it.

Lean is about continuous improvement of your operation. Be sure to continuously improve your Lean deployment as well.

Originally published April 13, 2017.

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