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Key Traits and Behaviors of Great Lean Consultants

by Art Byrne
October 13, 2015

Key Traits and Behaviors of Great Lean Consultants

by Art Byrne
October 13, 2015 | Comments (6)

Many lean consultants have a terrible reputation. 

And they deserve it.

I know of far too many companies who have hired so-called “lean experts” who really function like traditional strategy or business consultants. They come in, create and share fancy PowerPoint presentations, make a set of general recommendations (many of which the client has already considered), charge an outrageous amount of money and then leave. As a result, many companies feel burned by the experience, and lean itself gets a bad reputation.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I know from experience that great lean consultants take a radically different approach than most clients are familiar with. That’s because their approach is based on the idea that lean is a learn-by-doing exercise. The path to lean practice is nothing more than constant practice. This does need the leadership and management of an experienced sensei overseeing kaizen activities in the beginning.

Back when I was a group executive at Danaher Corporation, we started using Shingijutsu as our lean sensei. They referred to themselves as “insultants.” They badgered us, they pushed us and pointed out all the stupid things we were doing. They were more serious about us improving most of the time than we were.

To be honest they function more like trainers. They teach your people to see the waste and develop approaches to eliminate it.  They are very hands-on, showing your people how to improve and leaving a lot of “homework” to be done by their next visit. We never got a PowerPoint presentation or, in fact, any type of presentation from Shingijutsu. They just spent their time on the shop floor helping our people make things better.

So if you want to accelerate your lean practice I highly recommend reaching out to a good lean consultant to serve as your coach, teacher, trainer. Plan on working with these people over the long haul. We scheduled out their visits one year in advance. We tried to get enough of their time so we could make rapid progress and give as many of our people exposure to their thinking as we could. For example, a good lean sensei can handle four teams of 10 people each per week of consulting. For a small to mid-size company, 12 weeks of sensei-led kaizens per year is a good target to start with. Thus you can get 480 of your people exposed to this intensive learn by doing activity each year.

Recognize that what we are really talking about is changing the thinking of every person in the company. This is not a quick or easy thing to do. It can feel like having someone come in and say that everything that people are doing is no good and has to change—that everything they have learned is wrong. That’s a bit dramatic, and not always true—but the changes required for lean practice are in fact so big that it will feel a bit like this to people. This change, which is emotional and personal as much as it is technical, has to be led from the top down by leaders who the workers trust— to whom they have an attachment.

Great consultants recognize that their role is important, and ongoing; but limited. They are there to teach the operators and support and push the leaders. If they can’t get the full commitment of the company's leadership then a good lean consultant will “fire” that client. This is something that you will never see a traditional consulting firm do. They are more invested in their own revenue stream than in the improvement progress of their client. The opposite of a lean sensei who is fully vested in the rapid improvement and transformation of his clients.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  coaching,  management
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6 Comments | Post a Comment
Mark Bradway October 13, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Art,

 

Great stuff! Accurate, focused, unafraid and for the right hearers most helpful. Thanks for your candor.

 

Mark Bradway

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Ken Hunt October 13, 2015

Art,

I could not agree more. I too have had the honor of working with Shingijutsu Senseis and I know I am a better Lean Coach because of it. I worked with a Sensei just last week and he has actually allowed me to give instructions to teams in his presence. Not many consultants would do that.

Very hands on, good instructions, and most importantly they genuinely care about the people and the processes. Thanks for a great post.

Ken

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Karen Martin October 13, 2015
4 People AGREE with this comment

Thank you, Art, for this post. It's something that's needed to be said for a long time. In addition to firing clients who aren't serious about transformation (which I have), "great Lean consultants" are as careful about selecting clients as clients are about selecting a consultant - another thing that traditional firms don't often do. This is something that sometimes surprises potential clients - that it's more about their likelihood for success than it is about the revenue.

Finally a note for anyone reading who's internal, highly seasoned in Lean thinking and practice, and considering consulting: To Art's point, this type of consulting is about developing others. Make sure you're someone gets great joy in seeing others be successful versus needing to "do" yourself. We need more great teachers and fewer "do-ers" out here. Thanks again, Art. Great post!

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Mark Graban October 15, 2015
4 People AGREE with this comment

There are many "bad" consultants who have seen Lean as "a new market opportunity" as opposed to being a real vocation or passion. Buyer beware.

On the theme of buyer beware, I've been flabbergasted to meet undergraduate engineers who say they are starting a Lean consulting firm right out of college. Based on what?? An internship? Even if it was an internship at Toyota, who is going to hire somebody with such limited experience as a Lean consultant?

In big bureaucratic organizations, they make a similar error. Let's put a project manager type in charge of Lean internally.

I actually heard somebody say recently, "They put me in charge of Lean Six Sigma, so I figured I'd better get some training to figure out what that is..."

As they say online, SMDH.

It's not a "Lean failure rate" in many of these cases, it's just organizational failure when leaders do things like this...

 

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Arron Clarke January 10, 2017

fantastic post. Resonated with me as I have had a recent experience of this. As someone who has a longer term goal of starting a consultancy focussed on lean deployment, I couldn't agree more that this is a skill that needs to be developed. The ability to "let go" and have others do the doing can often be challenging 

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Lee August 08, 2018

For me it is all about implementing until it is part of  the culture.

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