LEI Survey on Lean Challenges


lean enterprise institute survey (Google cache HTML)

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I don't recall seeing this survey last year and the 2006 survey is in the works, according to my contact at the LEI.

The LEI asked: “What are the biggest obstacles to a lean implementation at your company?” The responses (multiple answers allowed):

  1. Lack of implementation know-how (48%)
  2. Backsliding to the old ways of working (48%)
  3. Middle management resistance (40%)
  4. Traditional cost accounting system doesn't recognize the value of lean (38%)

Notice that #1 isn't “lack of lean know-how.” There is no shortage of lean know-how — books and consultants abound throughout the world. The key is IMPLEMENTATION know-how — how to make it work in your organization. You could argue that it's really lack of leadership in the organization that prevents implementation.

Speaking of lack of leadership, points #2 and #3 are absolutely leadership issues. Management loves to blame workers in the context of “they just won't follow the standard work that we created, they go back to old ways.” Well, don't those workers report to you? Did they have involvement in the creation of the standard work? People don't like to be told what to do without having input. If management forced the standard work on people, of course they aren't following it. That said, even if the employees had input and they aren't following the standard work, it is the responsibility of supervisors, middle management, and leadership to make sure A) people are following the standard work and B) people are working to improve the standard work (via kaizen). Standard work audits are important task for management — it's no excuse to complain your people aren't following the standard work — look in the mirror as management.

Ah, the middle managers aren't on board? Again, whose fault is that other than top management? You need to lead and inspire your middle managers to get on board. Make sure they understand why lean is a good thing, why they should be on board. If they “won't follow” then you are either an ineffective leader or they need replacing. Middle management not being on board is something you have to fix, don't just complain about it.

As for cost accounting — maybe one of the lean accounting folks will chime in, as that isn't really my area of real experience. I'm hoping to do a Podcast interview with Jim Huntzinger, the organizer of the Lean Accounting Summit soon, so I can ask him to explain it for us.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I agree, middle management resistance is not a root cause problem. How can you expect someone to implement lean and deliver to the old measures.

    One thing I would like to see is reference to an actual timetable. Everyone responding will be comparing their progress to either a written timetable or more likely an (unrealistic?) expectation in their heads.

    Norman Bodek made some excellent remarks in his podcast regarding Toyota taking up to 5 years.

    On Art’s site he also infers that Toyota sometimes struggles to implement TPS (go see his shingo presentation v.good) and think of the advantage they have over most others.

    We in the Lean community should be much more realistic in our expectations and timeframes.

  2. Middle managers often look to front line managers to determine how they will support an initiative. Those on the front lines know that each day they will be held accountable for what goes out the door, both numbers and quality. They are suspicious of new programs that are supposed to help. Leasn implementors should look for key opportunities to use lean methods to solve problems that result in pain and frustration for people on the front lines. When middle managers begin to hear front line people speaking well of the lean effort, resistance will begin to break down.


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