If you are in the group of readers that has implemented Lean principles in your organization, I say, “Congratulations” to you.  I hope that your Lean Journey has given you the results you had hoped for – and perhaps more results than you had once thought possible.

If you’ve been on your journey for more than three years, you have most likely discovered how to keep the momentum going throughout the organization.  For those of you who have not yet discovered how to build and maintain momentum, let me offer you some ideas and advice.


Appoint a Lean Champion

Once you’ve made the commitment to Lean, you should consider appointing a Lean Champion within your organization.  What is a Lean Champion?  This is a person who eats, breaths, and sleeps Lean for your organization.  This person looks for opportunities for improvement and works with employees to make changes.  This person tracks your Lean results and communicates them to the management team and the employees.  This person facilitates improvement sessions (those soft skill Conversation Framework tools) and trains employees on what Lean is for your organization.  The Champion is a driver for Lean but is NOT responsible for its success.  The entire staff is responsible for its success.  The Champion guides the people down the path to success.

At first, your Champion might start out in this role part-time.  However, as the Lean momentum spreads throughout the organization, most management teams realize that the Champion must be able to dedicate his or her full attention to the Lean initiatives.

If you need to appoint the role of Lean Champion to a person who has another role in your organization, make sure the expectations are explicitly clear for this person.  Avoid adding the role and responsibilities to a person’s current workload and turning the Champion role into an “as time permits” job.  If you give the role to somebody whose main passion and first job is something else, they will most likely favor the position they had first and turn the Champion role into an optional role.  This will give the employees the message loud and clear that Lean is optional.

One very important aspect of the Champion’s role is communicating successes and failures.  People want to be part of something exciting and productive.  When the Champion announces successes and gives credit where credit is due, then others become more willing to join in.

If you are serious about Lean, consider appointing or hiring a Lean Champion.  The money saved through the improvement initiatives will easily pay for the additional headcount.  By appointing a Champion to the staff, you give people the message that Lean is a long-term way of running the business, not an “as time permits” program or “program of the month.”


Eliminate Waste Throughout the Organization 

There are 15 forms of waste to reduce and/or eliminate.  They are:

1)    Authorizations

2)    Conflicting Department Goals

3)    Inventory

4)    Order Processing Time

5)    Overprocessing

6)    Overproduction

7)    Purchasing Reorders

8)    Scrap, Rework, and Corrections

9)    Searching

10) Transportation

11) Underutilized Employees

12) Waiting Time

13) Redundant Activity

14) Wasted Money

15) Poor Product Design

Please keep in mind that while many of these forms of waste sound as if they only apply to manufacturing or operations, they can be brought into the office and administrative areas quite easily.  The office area or an organization that sells services has its own kind of “production line.”

By regularly initiating waste reduction and elimination efforts throughout the organization, you will build momentum for years to come.  So much of our internal processes are waste.  Therefore, taking small improvement steps every few months keeps people engaged in the process and builds their waste elimination skills.

Within the Conversation Framework universe, we have a tool specifically designed for the Lean Journey.  IDENTIFY- Waste Analysis Activity guides a group of people through a process analysis with the specific goal of identifying where any of those 15 forms of waste exist.  For a short video on this Conversation Framework, please follow this link: A Conversation Frameworks Process Trio – MAPPING, SNAPSHOT, and IDENTIFY – Innovative Management Tools.

Create a Process Analysis Strategy

Very often we venture into continuous improvement projects after we’ve hit a crisis moment – a process has failed, or a customer has complained loudly enough to merit an investigation into the problem with corrective actions as the goal.

What I would propose to you is a much more proactive strategy.  Instead of subscribing to crisis management or reactive, problem-solving management, subscribe to proactive continuous improvements or situation handling before problems arise.  Identify the top 15 to 20 processes in your organization.  Then place them on a review schedule throughout the year.  When a process’s review is due, gather the process players and perform a process analysis to see where the process is working well and where it needs help.  Confirming where processes are running well is a great way to give praise to the employees.

If, for some reason, a process issue comes up prior to its scheduled review, move the process analysis up and deal with the problem.  However, take more than a cursory glance at a process by asking a few people “How are things going with process x?” as your process analysis.  Invest a couple hours and really put the process under the microscope, get feedback from ALL the process players, and then make improvements.  People need to understand that continuous improvement is their responsibility, not an optional activity, so make sure they get involved.

The bottom line: create a proactive schedule and drive improvement initiatives.  Don’t wait until the crisis dictates a review.


Improve the Planning Process

Projects very often fail because of a lack of planning at the onset of the project.  When there isn’t enough planning done up front (and I am talking about a few hours, not weeks or months), it is usually done later at a much greater cost because it involves undoing and redoing work that has already been done.

Therefore, set a planning process and policy in place for everyone in your organization to follow – no exceptions.  This includes management.  Their projects are usually (and rightly so) much farther reaching (strategic) in nature.  This means that up-front planning becomes critical for minimizing waste.  (see diagram for cost analysis)


Proper Planning Upfront Lowers Rework Costs 

Another reason for planning at the management level is to model the behaviors and skills that you expect in your staff.  If an employee plans a project poorly and wastes time and money, there are usually consequences.  Make sure everyone is held to the same standards.


Celebrate Successes

It is very important to continually celebrate successes, show results, and build a great “cause” and culture within the organization.  It may sound simple, but so many organizations fall short in this area.  Whether you feel the need to celebrate the small successes, or not, somebody in your organization will have worked hard to complete a project.  Many times, this work is above and beyond their regular job duties.  Therefore, by not expressing your gratitude and celebrating the success, you run the risk of making people feel that their work has gone unnoticed, unappreciated, and expected.  (Ever heard of the quiet resignation?)

Nothing will diminish future efforts faster than a feeling of being underappreciated.

So what to do, specifically?  Plan your communication strategy.  Don’t leave it to happenstance because it will look last-minute, insincere, and forced to your staff.  Know what means the most to the people and plan your communication efforts accordingly.

Another thing to make sure you do is to recognize people for their contributions regardless of their position.  I’ve seen organizations where the supervisors and managers were not allowed to be recognized for their good ideas.  “It’s their job to think of these ideas,” was the rationale.  When speaking to the supervisors and managers in these environments, they felt slighted.  In some cases, they withheld good ideas from management out of spite.  Not a good scenario for any organization.


Last Thoughts 

When building momentum for Lean in your organization, accept and plan for having a different momentum in each area or department.  Allow for these differences for they represent the varied dynamics of your organization.  If you try to control or stifle a fast-paced department, you are defeating the purpose of employee-based improvement initiatives.  However, if you have areas or departments that are slow to embracing the Lean principles, help them, guide them, and nurture them into action.

Long-term momentum comes when every area is involved and contributing to the proactive improvement of the organization.

Finally, be conscious of how improvement projects compete for time with your employees’ other tasks and responsibilities.  Any momentum you’ve built can be slowed down or stopped completely if employees are involved in too many projects at once – taking them away from their “normal” job.  It is a balancing act in many cases.  Finding balance and not overwhelming employees is very important.


Momentum Builders: Top 5 Builders

#1: Appoint a Lean Champion

#2: Eliminate Waste Throughout the Organization 

#3: Create a Process Analysis Strategy

#4: Improve the Planning Process

#5: Celebrate Successes

Patrick Seaton