How To Start Lean

“What’s the first thing I should do?”

I hear this question frequently—most recently by someone in Turkey—about transforming an organization into a lean one.  It’s always worth learning from those who’ve gone before you, especially if it can avoid costly missteps.

For those new to lean and its brother, six sigma, lean is a concept that focuses on maximizing value by eliminating waste. Six sigma is a measurement of variation. It’s used to improve quality. Successful lean transformations are characterized by the performance improvements they create and their staying power. That is, lean becomes a way of doing business, not another program of the day.

There are two components of lean. One is the technical, or hard side of business; the formulas, measures and processes. The other is the cultural, or the soft side that includes issues related to leadership, communication and rewards.

The starting point?  Without equivocation, I advocate that the cultural side of the change effort must be addressed first.

In every situation where I’ve been asked to help “fix” a lean transformation gone bad, the problem had been created by addressing the hard side first–changing work processes or imposing new performance measures that no one understood.  Tools, techniques and work processes were implemented on top of a value system that was incompatible with lean.

Starting with leadership, communication and involvement issues takes time. But sometimes we have to go slow to go fast. Getting the cultural issues down right will cause the lean effort to skyrocket, once you marry up the technical and cultural sides and begin the integrated implementation.

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