"5 Whys" Survey Results, Part 1


You might recall the annual Lean Enterprise Institute survey that included a question about obstacles to Lean implementation. You might also recall our discussion about the “blaming” that seemed to go on in the survey responses (blame that included everybody but top management). This led to me doing a “5 Why's” format survey of my own, a survey that also included “lack of top management support” as a survey option.

I received 100 responses, which isn't quite the sample size of over 2000 that the LEI got for their survey, but it is still interesting to compare the results. I'll share my results over a series of blog posts. In this first post, we look at the question (as posed in both surveys), “What are the biggest obstacles to implementing Lean in your organization?” I first posed the question the same way as the LEI, allowing “check all that apply” multiple responses (but again, adding “lack of top management support” as a choice.

First graph shows the Lean Blog results (click on any chart or table for a larger view). The top answers are also shown in the table below:

Note the results of “Lack of top management support” at 35.5%. It's not that far off than the other parties who are blamed (middle managers, supervisors, and employees), at least within a statistical margin of error. I wonder if there's a strong correlation between these — do you tend to see poor middle management buy in or employee buy in when you also do not have top management support? I can dig deeper into the data to answer that question later.

The chart below shows the comparison between the LeanBlog results and the LEI results (the red bars).

It could be partly due to the sample size differences, but it's interesting to see that the LEI results aren't duplicated exactly, as shown in the table to the left. Is it partly due to slightly different audiences for the Lean Blog and the LEI mailing list? I'll post the demographics for the survey respondents later and I'll look for trends or disparities in the results among those sub-populations (such as large company vs small).

The biggest discrepancies between the surveys were:

  • Flavor of the month (29.9 points higher in my survey)
  • Backsliding (29.7 higher)
  • Financial value not recognized (27.4 higher)
  • Failure to overcome opposition (20.8 higher)
  • Failure of past lean projects (17.1 higher)
In general, I got much higher lean “obstacle rates” than the LEI survey. I wonder why that is? Are my readers a bunch of complainers? Negative nellies? Realists? I didn't ask the question any differently than the LEI, other than the context of my blog posts about not wanting to blame individuals.

There was also an “other” field, where people could list other obstacles. These included (in no particular order).
  • Cultural and communication issues with offshore facilities
  • Politics
  • Program hijacked to accomplish unrelated agenda
  • Fear of Failing
  • Dysfunctional employee relations which results in lack of Trust
  • Activity Based Costing not available
  • Enough people/time to implement improvements
  • Lack of understanding what Lean is
  • Start-up company that doesn't think it can handle it right now
  • Fire fighter heroes.
  • Just starting, not enough time to train for knowledge – to change the thinking
  • Systemic Resistance (too hard to change processes on the floor)
  • Use of Traditional metrics to measure Lean progress at Corporate level
  • Too much other work to do
  • No slack capacity
  • Time to break away from firefighting
  • Too many initiatives jostling for attention
  • Ingrained fire fighting and “Do” without thinking “compliance” culture
  • Lack of engagement of entire organization towards vision

Lack of time is a fairly consistent theme. That's a classic “Catch 22” I guess. We need to improve, but we don't have time to improve because of all of the waste in the system. How have people gotten around that to jump start the Lean process? Once you get going, you should be able to free up time and capacity for further improvement, but just getting started can be a challenge.

Getting away from the firefighting mentality can be a real challenge, whether in manufacturing or healthcare. I think that's just human nature, the desire to firefight. Many people find joy and pleasure in working around broken systems, expediting, getting things done, etc. With improved processes, you shouldn't need as much firefighting and that's a real loss to some in your organization.

In my next post, I will discuss the results of asking the same question in a way that forces respondents to choose the #1 obstacle to their Lean implementation. In future posts, I will examine some of the open ended “5 Whys” style answers and the root causes that people listed.

Any comments, responses, or further questions about the data? There's a lot to pour through, but lots to talk about and dig into.

We also have our first prize winner, randomly selected. If your email address contains “newg3”, you've won a copy of the book
Evolving Excellence: Thoughts on Lean Enterprise Leadership, by Kevin Meyer and Bill Waddell (courtesy of Superfactory.com). I'll email you for your contact info.

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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. Mark
    I would not extrapolate from my small business, the dental office , to the larger businesses that answered the survey. So I’ll stick to the nature of the questions, without discussing the answers.
    In my opinion, most of the questions– especially the ones about people’s resistance, at any organizational level– fall under the umbrella of “Lack of implementation know how” .
    Isn’t “implementation know how” the art of persuading people by proving to them the benefits of “lean management” one small step at a time? Is it not supposed to free up time and resources as we go, so we could tackle more problems and free up more resources, without disrupting the daily flow of work?
    Just a thought

  2. Dr. Bahri — how nice to have you participating. I do think it is worthwhile to think about how the stated response “lack of implementation knowhow” is very different than “lack of lean knowledge” (which wasn’t a choice in the survey). The same implementation problems (lack of leadership, focusing on tools instead of business problems, etc.) are pretty similar whether one has problems implementing lean, six sigma, or going back to TQM and BPR. It’s not about “Telling” people to implement Lean, but as you said here (and in your podcast), it’s about leading people to give it a try so they can see the benefits — selling instead of telling.

    It’s just hard for some folks to get going with Lean. But, once you have success, it can keep building on itself as you free up time and use that time for kaizen, freeing up more time…. and the cycle continues! A nice cycle to be in if you can get there.

  3. Dr. Bahri, Mark: I wholeheartedly agree. I get the feeling many people charged with developing lean systems use “lack of management support” as a cop-out for their own failures to understand leadership as well as lean tools. Change is tough on everyone and if the changes do not immediately show benefits managers and execs naturally become skeptical. Lean leaders have to learn leadership first, lean systems second, lean tools third. Good results follow good systems.

  4. Beware the foxes…

    Don’t recall if I’ve covered it before, but one of my favorite reminders comes from a mentor and friend: there are three types of Lean participants – Rabbits, Turtles and Foxes. It is our job as Lean leaders to recognize and handle each accordingly.

    1. Rabbits, those who buy in and hit the ground running. The challenge there is keeping them challenged and moving forward. If improvements don’t come fast enough, they’ll loose focus. However, they can be fantastic assistance in the early phases of your project, adding necessary fuel to the fire.

    2. Turtles, those who don’t buy in for a long time. However, when they are converted, they are often more valuable than rabbits. The challenge they present is not to dismiss them too early. Keep showing them results until they convert. Once they convert, they will be your staunchest supporters. Traditionally, they are also indirect leaders, those others quietly look to for direction.

    3. Foxes, those who talk like they buy in, but their actions will [eventually] give them away as non-believers. These ‘rascals’ can either make decisions which countermand Lean or they can be so bold as to speak out against Lean to the lower ranks, destroying any culture you attempt to build. Foxes are difficult to convert, and are often those who are moved to better fitting positions or “choose” to move into a different career.

    The problem with Foxes is, some are ‘sleeper’ foxes (although most I’ve seen know exactly what they are doing). Think of someone hypnotized who doesn’t remember doing something. These ‘sleepers’ don’t realize what they are doing is counter-productive (some desicions are so natural that we don’t really see how negatively they impact the cultural change potential.]

    For Lean Leaders, it’s not merely to be a good leader, but to recognize who in your facility (or more importantly, who – above you -) is a Leader and who is a sniper. It’s all about the respect for people. You may, but if others in leadership positions don’t, they can destroy your Lean implementation..no matter how good your leadership skills are. That’s why Toyota is so selective on their hiring process. They are looking for people who fit the mold for leadership positions.

  5. I can easily say that, at different times I have been each of the characters you are discribing. I have found excuses to stop implementing and went idle for months, until I listened to a CD or read a book that would remind me how Edison tried 10,000 times before he made the right lightbulb.
    I have been a rabbit in some projects and a turtle in others. I have dealt with rabbits, turtles and foxes. (Notice I didn’t say I have been a fox!?)
    For some reason I like to think that people change attitudes depending on the project. The guiding question is probably the classical :”What’s in it for me?” I think that people who see a benefit to themselves in an improvement project, tend to embrace it quickly (rabbits?). Those who think they might loose something because of the change are more likely to face it like turtles or even foxes. They would probably trade places on the next project.
    I like to ask myself: “What is it they’re waiting to see, before they’re ready to jump on board?” then I try to make sure my improvement gives it to them. After all they are part of the equation in a win-win solution.
    People’s resistance is just another obstacle to “flow”, another rock , and I try to treat it rationally, just like any process kaizen effort.


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