We’ve all been guilty of these mistakes from time to time, but in the spirit of continuous improvement let us admits these faults and strive for better.
1) Thinking Lean vs. Being Lean
Lean is a continuous way of thinking about the current state, not just a project to start and finish. If your approach to lean is project-based, take a step back and put the goal of your project in a larger context. Are you trying to be a lean organization or run a project based on lean principles? Put another way, does going to a Buddhist temple make you Buddhist? Start by embodying the mindset and attributes of what you wish to become, but do not sell yourself or your sponsors on an overnight conversion!
Set the right expectations for the project and where it fits along your organizational path to become full-time lean practitioners. Definitively state how this project helps your organization become more aware of lean practices. If you are further along on your journey, how will this project be used to grow and develop more lean champions? For full-time practitioners, lean attributes are habitual. Be honest with your teams about where you are on the lean journey. As a lean advocate, cultivate the right habits by continuously growing and developing those around you.
2) Confusing the tool for the solution
The lean toolbox contains many practical problem solving and analytical exercises. From fishbone diagrams to box-plots, there are many different techniques you can apply to your project to focus your efforts in the right direction. However, just completing the exercise does not fulfill the practice. A surgeon does not just employ the use of a scalpel but understands its uses in the practice of medical care.
Think about lean as a doctor who practices medicine. Ask yourself how the results of your analysis or work will be applied? What is the post-operation check-up schedule? What will be done if the patient does not improve? How will the patient stay healthy long after the procedure?
The goal is to ensure long-term health and productivity in your work environment, but often the lean work is stopped after the analysis is done. Create a post-op plan for your organization’s continued improvement. The best result is never worrying about the same problem again. Go beyond the charts and worksheets to discuss the long-term operational plan for sustained improvement.
3) Forgetting to include the user
When you are paid to be the project manager or the solution provider it is often difficult to be inclusive of every stakeholder, especially if the organization looks to you alone for the answer. Too often the “lean work” is done far removed from the area of operation so key hand-offs and process steps are omitted in the analysis. This isn’t negligence that causes the project to falter but an oversimplification of work content.
Reach out to your subject matter experts. They often make the task look easy which might lead you to a false sense of confidence in comprehending the work. At a high level, the better your understanding of the people and processes in your focus area, the more likely you will succeed at implementing improvements. At a deeper level, you cannot be lean without recognizing that every worker can offer knowledge and insight into the work; those that do the work control the pace of any improvements. The goal for sustained lean implementation is when the end user is surfacing the next opportunity for improvement and reporting upward, instead of change being driven down.
A task never practiced is a skill never learned
Faced with deadlines, deliverables, and tight resource constraints, often the challenge is producing results as quickly as possible, which creates a seemingly hostile lean environment. The truth is every organization faces the same challenges. The difference is how we choose to respond to these pressures. Take every opportunity to not only use lean tools and techniques, but to teach others how to find, execute, and sustain operational improvements. You have to give in order to receive and focused practice will help you to evolve into a leaner way of doing business.