Lean, slow it down

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During my 36 year career, I have come across some senior managers who have attempted to create a sense of urgency around expectations but failed.

They failed, as they lacked the ability to make a personal connection with their employees and to share their confidence and vision in an energetic and invigorating way. Their attempts to try to create urgency only resulted in creating a culture of unrealistic expectations, criticism and fear, that weakened the productivity of the organisation.

The area of managing expectations made me reflect on a task that must always be managed in an unrushed and restrained way, the adoption of a lean methodology within an organisation.

Lean is a voyage that never ends; when an organisation sees lean as a destination, it focuses on quick solutions. Instead of a lean transformation, the organisation rushes towards a set goal in a flood of Kaizen events, 5 S audits, organised desks and kanban systems. It takes time and practice to understand the true purpose of lean tools and that is where the organisation should focus its energy. Instead of pondering on metrics and activities that give the appearance of progress, senior managers should focus on the foundation that will help the organisation grow into a lean organisation. (Flinchbaugh and Carlino 2006, p.55)

The focus of an organisation wanting to undergo a lean transformation should be on encouraging employees to try new things by continually attempting to improve processes that are safer, more efficient and produce a higher quality output. It is easier to introduce lean tools into an organisation with a strong process improvement culture rather than to build a process improvement culture onto a collection of lean tools.

When beginning a lean transformation managers should avoid the temptation of trying to speed it up by setting lots of goals relating to the use of lean tools; Number of 5S walks by work week, the total number of Kaizen events held per month. Instead, they should focus on slowing it down to allow employees to learn the power and skill of using lean tools in an environment where employees are encouraged to try new things to make improvements.


Flinchbaugh, J. and Carlino, A. 2006. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean. Dearborn, Michigan: Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

Photo by Nick Abrams on Unsplash

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