More Lean Q&A


I recently posted some Lean Q&A. These questions came from an Industry Week webcast that I did with sponsor Infor, and there were plenty more questions than time to answer. Here's the next installment of questions that I received.

If the dollars saved does not spark leadership to take lean steps to really start engaging people, what else would you suggest?

This is a question that would require a lot more context and specifics to answer, but I can try to answer how I would look at it. First, if there are true dollars savings and people are not getting behind, a direct inquiry as to why is important. There can be some valid reasons. For example, the dollars saved might be soft savings (that's doesn't make them not real) but the organizational situation, or possible culture, will only value hard savings (the budget is now lower). The second question or issue is around the topic of engagement. This is even more likely the issue. Many managers believe they are very supportive. They are 100 percent behind the lean efforts. The problem is that behind is still behind, but engaged likely means out in front. They might be very interested in what lean can do for them but not really know what they should do about it. One last thought is that dollars saved does not excite everyone even if they value it and even if they are measured by it. Still consider the emotional element. If people are leaving the office at 7 PM feeling they got nothing done, could lean help them leave at 5 PM feeling like they made a difference. Sometimes a vision like this is much more compelling and engaging than just saying we saved some money.

We have a minimal amount of experience in Lean. Therefore, we will have to get some support from the outside. Some will “help facilitate” over an extended period of time, others will come in for 6 months and drive it (for a cost). What is the best type of consulting to use?

That is an important question, and one I feel a little biased and uncomfortable answer. Nonetheless, here's what I do believe. There is no recipe, no three-ring binder approach to lean. If someone brings you an approach and says “here is the best way to implement lean,” please, run away. There is one right approach. The closest there is to a right approach is that there may be a right approach for you. Each company has different needs, different business conditions, different cultures and different capabilities, and your lean transformation strategy should reflect that. For example, a company near bankruptcy has different needs than a company making record profits. An international conglomerate has different needs than a family-owned tool distributor. Continuing down that line of thought, you also have to find a consultant that fits your needs. Do you need an army of people to hold your hand, or an advisor to give you occasional input and feedback. The personalities and styles of both the consultant and the company do matter. Know thyself, or know thy company, and find the right fit. Regardless of the right fit, I do believe a couple of things about consulting. First, they should transfer skills and knowledge. If they are continuing to execute the same tasks for you year after year without you learning and developing, they aren't doing their job, and neither are you. Also, a consultant has to be willing to walk away if they don't think you are willing to move in the right direction. If everything you ask or suggest the consultant agrees with, you are either brilliant and always right, or they aren't willing to tell you the truth. And last and perhaps most important, never, never abdicate your lean journey and company direction to the consultant. The consultant should only help. You must lead your own team, your own company. No one can do that for you.

Our company is struggling with how to measure our worker's continuous improvement activities. Is this something that should be measured, and if so, how would we measure it?

Know that you are not along – this is a common question and a challenge. Many people don't like my first answer, because it's not the answer they are looking for, but it's the right answer. The most important measurement is engagement. You have to engage and evaluate how people are thinking, working, engaging and improving. If you can't look your employees in the eyes and understanding their thinking. Now you can supplement that engagement with metrics, but it will only help, not replace, real engagement. If you are going to measure employee involvement in continuous improvement, never, never tie financial incentives to metrics of people behaviors. Measure things that indicate progress, either forward or backward. You can measure number of improvements, speed to closer, total dollars, percent of people participating, but any one of those can be misleading.

Should you quantify all lean upgrades in order to know what you accomplished or how well you are or are not doing?

One at a time, yes. When we talk about lean rules, one of those rules is improve through experimentation. That means even for a small improvement like changing a form or moving something, it starts with a hypothesis: “if I do this, I expect to get that.” You then try it and find out if you got the result you expected.Two things happen when you do that. First, you find out if it was indeed an improvement. Second, you just tested your knowledge, which is how learning occurs. In case that sounds familiar, that is basically what PDCA, or Plan Do Check Act is all about. You can add improvements up if you want to or can, but if you improve through experimentation properly, you will know if you are making progress.

How can I succeed in a Lean implementation without upper management support?

First, recognize that few companies start with upper management support. Sometimes, but very rarely, it starts with the senior management. Slightly more often, someone in senior management gets the journey started. Much more often, someone else needs to get them there. If you want upper management support, then part of your job is to do whatever it takes to gain that support. That being said, you also can apply lean to your own job and your own sphere of influence, whether that is just you, a team, a department or a process. You have to deliver results anyway, why not use lean to do so. You will make things around you more effective. You might get upper management support because of those results. And hopefully you will also learn, which is all the reason any of us should need.

How to motivate people to implement Lean when we are cutting overtime by implementing Lean?

You can't, at least you can't motivate people when taking their money away. If you can replace that overtime pay with incentives tied to the profitability of the company, then you might have something, But if people take home less money, they will not be happy with the result. Some organizations hate overtime, but many seem to revel in it based on the increase in pay. If you have no room to change the incentive system, then you will have to accept their point of view, and motivation will not be part of it. The best thing you can do is move through the transition as fast as possible, let the dust settle, and rebuild from there.

If my company only focus on short term profitability, how do you apply lean? It's easy to apply lean tools but it's hard to change the culture in a short time.

I would say it's very hard to change the culture in a short time. But short term results and long term culture change do not have to be mutually exclusive. You need a long-term vision of the culture change you want. As you work on the problems and processes that are required to deliver those short-term results, do it in a way that builds the culture one step at a time. It's slow and steady but it works.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh
Jamie Flinchbaugh is an accomplished Entrepreneur, Senior Executive, and Board Member with more than 20 years of success spanning finance, manufacturing, automotive, and management consulting. Leveraging extensive operational experience, Jamie is an invaluable asset for a company seeking expert guidance with process improvements, lean strategies, and leadership coaching in order to transform operations, reduce costs, and drive profitability. His areas of expertise include continuous improvement, entrepreneurship, coaching and training, process transformation, business strategy, and organizational design.


  1. To the first question, I would ask is it only “dollars saved” that matters, in terms of cost? What about creating value and providing better quality, service, and cycle times for your customers? Does that get the executives excited?

  2. Hi Jamie,
    hi Mark,

    I think executives nowadays still look mostly on the numbers because these are easy to visualize and communicate.

    How would an increase of quality effect the overall outcome?

    Here comes in an interesting new question that hasn’t been in the Lean Community yet (at least to my opinion):

    it is SYSTEM DYNAMICS that could visualize the impacts of certain lean efforts that are not visible in the short run BUT will have great positive results in the long run.

    So why not discuss the possible connection of both methodologies?

    Further info needed? Just give me a call (

    Still quite positive that LEAN will go through the roof;-)



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