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Ask Art: How Do We Prevent Backsliding?

by Art Byrne
April 11, 2014

Ask Art: How Do We Prevent Backsliding?

by Art Byrne
April 11, 2014 | Comments (3)

Almost every company will backslide from the results of their Lean gains. I often describe kaizen as three steps forward, two steps back. If you can make it just one step back (or best of all, none!), you'll be way ahead of the game.

The key is to anticipate the backslide and take early, aggressive, organized steps to prevent it from happening before it starts. This is the responsibility of the area manager whose process was improved, as well as the Kaizen Promotion Office (KPO) and senior management. Actions can include a “kaizen newspaper” at the end of each event that lists any follow up actions, the dates they will be completed, and the person responsible for the work. Team leaders and senior managers should take a weekly gemba walk to review the progress on each kaizen run by the KPO office. In addition, the Team/Value Stream leader should provide an update on the sustainability of the kaizen results as part of his/her weekly report out to the CEO and senior management.

Keep in mind that even if you transform your organization and have the full engagement of your CEO, you'll still face lower-level managerial resistance. There are ways to anticipate this potential area of backsliding as well.

The key principle here is to make gains visible, explicit, and tied to clear plans for continued kaizen. If you establish a value stream organization with team leaders and create a weekly report out structure to the CEO and his/her staff focused on the key value drivers for your business--at Wiremold, for example, they were 100% on time customer service; 50% reduction in defects each year; 20% productivity gain each year; 20x inventory turns; establishing visual control and 5S everywhere)--then you'll see who is performing and who is not pretty quickly.

Second, if your CEO spends a lot of time on the shop floor and provides updates to all employees at quarterly profit sharing meetings, then people will speak up if the message they are getting from their manager is the same as it was before the lean transformation. It will become clear who is not on board. Talk to your team members and give them a chance, but if they refuse to work with you, try to get someone in the job who supports the change. 

Above all remember that you should never do a kaizen and just walk away. Once you've made and sustained gains, schedule the next kaizen for that area to get to the next level of gains. Secure the gains you've acheived, share that learning, and then do it all again. After all, the word “kaizen” means continuous improvement. You can’t achieve that without going back again and again to remove the waste from your processes and actively, creatively problem solve.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  culture,  kaizen,  sustainability
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3 Comments | Post a Comment
RalfLippold April 11, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Many thanks Art for your insights which are close to reality. A visionary leader or CEO on top of the organization is certainly a first start. However as you write the "lower-level managerial resistance" is a more than common phenomenon to see. 

Reason for that is that the mental model for middle managers is certainly move on higher, and to do so you are on a "single path" that means the individual achievements count. The work measurement, and payment regime are (generally) still set on the individual position and person and this hinders for the lean efforts (once set into motion) to flourish at all levels (vertically) and across the organization (horizontally).

Questioning the "hidden" structures, and build in new incentives so that "lean attitude" and action to improve processes benefit everyone who is willing to work up to these standards.

About 10 years "lean" was almost forgotten at universities, as it seemed to be an old management approach, whereus seldom it had found its way into the organizations (at least here in Germany outside the automotive-related industries). Then over the course of some years consultancies promoting, and selling lean services have come up helping organizations and their managers to "implement" lean thinking/management. 

Promote your inhouse lean evangelists (even the ones who have never got a formal education such as a Lean Six Sigma Black or similar.

The attitude to strive for excellence is (from my point of view, and personal experience) all it takes to let the backsliding not appear.  

Best from Dresden, formerly Leipzig


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Mark Graban April 12, 2014

There's a common fallacy expressed here that "a kaizen" is a synonym for "a kaizen event."

Kaizen, as a daily continuous improvement practice, is not something that has to be scheduled and it's not always a formal week-long event.

Sometimes, the best strategy for not "backsliding" from a kaizen event is to continue practicing kaizen on a daily basis, continuing to fix small problems that are discovered after the formal event.

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Paul Cary April 14, 2014
Mark, I totally agree. In a maturing lean culture continuous improvement is becomes instinctive, happening as a normal reaction to waste identification. Servant Leaders  ( a Sensei or Champion) must the training and tools necessary for the value adders to thrive and maximize available resources. Servant Leadership must be totally committed and involved in day to day activities including; teaching, coaching, and mentoring. Servant Leaders are able to nurture evolving cultures by asking the "right questions" that are meant to stimulate the problem solving process. These questions must always be alligned with the "purpose" or "True North" of the organization.

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