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What are the biggest obstacles you are facing in your lean journey?

Company culture, weak management support, lack of lean knowledge – even federal budget sequestration – were among the answers you gave when we asked, "What are the biggest obstacles you are facing in your lean journey?

What follows are the replies to the question we asked:

"Capacity building, i.e. people with skills to lead lean processes, particularly in government."

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"Lean, six sigma, continuous process improvement was introduced at my organization about 10 years ago and met with textbook resistance. I am a new-ish green belt in a siloed organization with 11,000+ employees. I am nothing, if not a Lean missionary.

My biggest challenge is watching newly excited 'converts' lose momentum as they are reintroduced into their previous environments while I am off making new converts. It is like trying to keep 20 jacks spinning on the table at the same time. Like any new convert, they need support until they can be self-sustaining. But there are not enough missionaries to go around.

In recent years, the resistance has slowly mutated from actively personal and aggressive to passive and socio-environmental. All I do is 'keep calm and carry on'." – Charles Finance

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"Identification of nonvalue-added, and getting rid of it. Also, knowing what is value added, and making sure it is optimized."

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"It's been my experience that the biggest obstacle to daily lean progress is the lean leader who thinks they are the expert."

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"The obstacles are many and varied, but they all seem to distill into two intertwined issues: lack of understanding and lack of support.

Education and understanding are essential for a successful lean implementation. The entire workforce needs to be educated in the principles of lean and how to apply them to their work and areas.  Education in lean tools can come later and should be targeted to avoid the syndrome of becoming bogged down in the application of the tool rather than the application of lean.

There is a deep suspicion that comes from a lack of understanding of lean principles and this leads to a lack of buy-in from those most needed in the process.

Education opens the door to understanding. Application helps people walk through the doorway. Familiarisation helps them turn on the light and see the benefits.

Understanding the benefits of lean helps to drive the cultural of support for lean.

Support is needed at all levels of the organisation in order for a lean implementation to succeed.  Lean is not a system that can be "enforced" from the top down or driven from the bottom up.

Lean is cultural change. It requires active support from all levels of the organisation to create a sense of constant lean mindfulness.  This is a slow process in any organisation and is doomed if there are no champions to keep it active in the mindset of the entire workforce.

These champions must be from all levels of the organization and their language must be one of open and constant communication. Every problem or issue they are faced with must be met not only with lean principles in mind, but with lean on the lips, talking about what lean principle or tool could be applied the problem." - Katherine Clarke

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"In my experience one piece flow works best in line."

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"From my perspective the biggest obstacle is trying to get the people to buy into it."

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"At the beginning, I thought that the only challenge facing the lean transformation was the culture. Then I discovered that the culture was not only how people think about change but also the role that sociological problems like selfishness play in the transformation." - Mohame Fathi

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"Stupid people who claim to be trying to lean and value stream the process when they are really just messing up the lean work I've already done. U-shape layout is not the answer to everything! Straight line works better in some cases."

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"Not enough lean thinkers."

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"The biggest obstacle so far is, as your newsletter says, company culture. I'm being asked to develop lean projects within one-hour lunch 'n learns. There is no understanding of the need for everyone, including senior management, to consider a change in perspective. I know this is where I have to convince them, but it's uphill all the way, as I'm pretty low on the totem pole in an organization that regards my function as unimportant. However, here's to the challenge. I look forward to reading more on how to get the message through to "upstairs" and that there is no upstairs, only strategic verses operational, which I'm sure they'll resist at first. Wish me luck!"

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"They say gemba is not a museum."

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"Incompetent managers."

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"The biggest obstacle I am facing is internal to the culture of the Air Force for whom I work. Right now, as we speak, we are all facing massive budget cuts due to the sequestration process agreed to by our political leaders in 2011. Historically, the Air Force has always approached these types of challenges in a characteristically military "can-do, yes sir!" spirit. Heroism and fire-fighting crisis management are rewarded in this culture. However, sequestration is forcing the AF to start saying "No" and stop making its people put out fires.You would think this is a perfect opportunity for lean six sigma and process improvement to step in. And you would be partially right because we still have to get the core mission done smarter with fewer resources in this crazy fiscal and political environment we're all enduring.

However, the Air Force historically has a poor history with quality in general and process improvement in particular, and this presents an obstacle.  People who are used to heroic firefighting (1) have a hard time saying "No" even when confronted with nonvalue-added work and (2) stepping away from the proverbial firehouse long enough to take the time to look at a value stream from start to finish. 

Also, the AF is impatient with lean six sigma (our internal version is called AFSO21 -- Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century) and, like they did with quality in the late '90s, may end up pulling the plug on the CPI program because they aren't seeing the results fast enough.  They want the results but aren't patient enough to let CPI become part of every Airman's DNA (the vision for AFSO21).  Ironically, process improvement is the very thing that will help us weather this fiscal storm." - Sam Doucette

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"Sustainment"

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"The biggest obstacle I face in my lean journey is the upcoming furlough. In our environment process improvement is not a part of our jobs/ being. It is an additional thing to do when we have time. Now, we will have less time to complete our work. Process improvement will be put on the back burner. Even though this is the time process improvement is most needed."

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"[The culture is] resistant to anything that changes what people do, especially in an office setting."

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"I am working for the apparel industry in an overseas company. Employees have the mindset that lean is for car manufacturing. So it is very difficult to set their minds to adopting lean principals and activities. Also the life cycle of garments is so short, they are not much concerned about lean.!" - Gurunnanselage Costa

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"Although we outwardly welcome all personal initiative efforts by individuals to eliminate waste and transform our enterprise thinking to maximize the value- stream flow to our customers, both internal and external, the thought of embracing one more "initiative" project appears to be too daunting, when viewed along with several other current major undertakings in software implementation and physical facility rearrangement.

We might be better off to view transformative lean thinking as an important assist to these other major projects -- as an operational guide/ method to improve our processes of implementation and change.

Nonetheless, we can and will proceed with smaller isolated ground-level waste reduction "experiments" without the lean moniker, to gain a toe hold on an organizational belief in the cultural shift advantages of lean transformational leadership." - Chip Thiel

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"Sustaining any progress … over and over again."

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"My biggest issue was at a company I worked for that paid lip service to lean but never implemented it in a working manner.  Our gemba boards contained charts that were so complicated no one on the floor understood them.  We did a total productive maintenance project in a department that had no preventive maintenance program in place.  We had value-stream mapping events where we never calculated lead times, so we never got the true benefit.  Management directed all activity from the top down, even though it was obvious to some of us who had worked in other places that they did not have a good grasp of the fundamentals and how to apply them.

A company that jumps into lean programs without proper training and understanding, and without embracing feedback from all its employees, does more harm than good." - Robert Shaw

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"Lots of operators were unsatisfied and resigned after we reduced the work-in-process and rebalanced the production line. This is our biggest difficulty in my lean journey." - William Wang

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"Struggling to deploy lean from the bottom up."