Mark Graban's - Lean Healthcare, Lean Hospitals, Healthcare Kaizen, Lean Thinking, Lean Manufacturing, Toyota Production System

New Directions, Bad Lean Strategies and Leading Lean

Throughout my travels, I continue to be frustrated with the lack of creative thinking that is going into lean transformation strategies. I was recently shared a story from within a company where a “leadership” award had been presented to a group because they had trained everyone and done some 5S. I was a little despondent after reading this. Not only did it reek of a canned program, it sounded like a really bad one at that. To this day, most lean programs are still made up of three things: 1) train a bunch of people, 2) do a bunch of 5S, and 3) throw kaizens at bad process.

The kaizens will get some results, but those results won’t last. 5S will struggle to get off the ground with anything but heroic efforts, which are in turn rewarded, and people don’t even understand the WHY of 5S. And the training is done across the board with generic training without thought as to who, what, when or why. This explains the lack of success of most lean efforts, as I discussed in last week’s Industry Week webcast. There’s the problem – rant over, time for solutions.

First, most companies that are using these strategies have not truly committed to a lean journey. They are still dabbling. They have convinced themselves they are serious, but hanging a few pictures on the wall doesn’t require much risk or commitment. This is why I wrote about the topic this month in my Leading Lean column for Assembly Magazine titled From Dabbling to Commitment. It is OK to be in this pre-commitment phase, which we call Phase Zero, under one condition. You must be clear with yourself as a company that this is where you are. When you begin convicing yourself that you are on the journey, when you really are not, you will get disappointed in the results and not really learn what should be different. Fundamentally, to begin the journey, you must take some risk and step out of the comfort zone.

Secondly, many lean change agents accept that they can not get their leadership to “get it” right out of the gate, so they a adopt a “dip your toe” strategy to get a few things started to engage and demonstrate to those around them. However, now that the crutch exists, they don’t know how to push them further. We developed the course Leading Lean specifically to give change agents the skills they need as change agents – how to sell new ideas, build a network, coach, teach, etc. We launch this course on March 12th so please join us.

So much more can be done for lean that these strategies. Please tell us about your change strategy. Are you stuck in phase zero? Can you not get out of the kaizen addiction? Have you been working on 5S for 2 years? Please share.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh is a lean advisor, speaker, and author. In addition to co-founding the Lean Learning Center, he has helped build nearly 20 companies as either a co-founder, board member, advisor, or angel investor. These companies range from high-performance motorcycles to SaaS tools for continuous improvement. He has advised over 300 companies around the world in lean transformation, including Intel, Harley-Davidson, Crayola, BMW, and Amazon. Jamie co-authored the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, and continues to share his experiences as a Contributing Editor forIndustryWeek and as a blogger at He holds degrees from Lehigh University, University of Michigan, and MIT, and continues to teach and mentor on campus. Jamie is best known for helping to transform how we think about lean from a tools-centric model to one based on principles and behaviors. His passion for lean transformation comes from seeking to unlock the great potential that people possess to build inspiring organizations.

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