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Ask Art: People are Nervous about Too Much Change, Can I Lead Lean Incrementally?

by Art Byrne
August 16, 2016

Ask Art: People are Nervous about Too Much Change, Can I Lead Lean Incrementally?

by Art Byrne
August 16, 2016 | Comments (12)

Well, it depends on what you mean by “incrementally.” Lean, or continuous improvement after all, is nothing but a series of small gains that add up to big results. From this perspective implementing lean could be said to be all incremental. If what you are really asking is “Can’t I go at this slowly and carefully to avoid any mistakes?” then the answer is no, you cannot - at least not if you expect to show good results.

Implementing lean is nothing if not a constant series of ‘leaps of faith’ into the unknown. The moment that machines have to be moved or the office rearranged into a better flow, the question of "But what if it doesn’t work?" will always be there. The fact that you thought this through quickly, say during a one-week kaizen, only adds to the anxiety. But you have to take the leap.

Moving machines on the first day of kaizen is a leap of faith to be sure: you can damage them, waste time hooking them back up, risk customer service in a number of ways, and push the operators way out of their comfort zone. But if you don’t move them you won’t learn anything and you won’t improve. Dramatically reducing your inventory is another leap of faith that will generate huge resistance: you risk customer stock-outs, and vendor problems, not to mention the removal of a safety stock of material “just in case” anything goes wrong. But clinging to excess inventory will also keep you from: freeing up a lot of floor space (where you used to store this inventory), creating a safer work place, improving your quality, lowering your costs and freeing up a significant amount of cash that you can reinvest back in the business in new products or acquisitions to grow your market share and increase your enterprise value.

Sometimes everything works just great. More often, it doesn’t. Keep leaping. Figure out what went wrong, fix it and keep moving forward. Many of the people on your team will want to stop and go back to the way you have always done it. Your job is to not let this happen. Never go backwards.

 A key role for the lean leader is to push through problems as they pop up. Every business has numerous unexpected problems that seem to show up at the worst possible time. The reaction of most companies is to go backwards. A traditional batch company will respond to customer service problems, for example, by building more inventory. The lean leader on the other hand wants to lower inventory. He will push hard to uncover the root causes for the customer service problems and put fixes in place as soon as possible. Only the leader can take this approach. It is a leap of faith that you can solve the problems quickly enough so you don’t have to take a step backwards and ‘build more inventory.’ You never want to do that. It is admitting defeat, and a slippery slope in the wrong direction.

You also have to overcome the ‘lore’ that exists in almost any company or industry. By ‘lore’ I mean the beliefs that develop over time about the way something must be done and are then taken as gospel. I was once on the board of a jewelry company and showed them how to go from an eight-week lead-time for making a ring to just two days. The lore in the jewelry industry was that it takes eight weeks to make a ring. This type of lore would be perpetuated whenever anyone hired a new VP of Operations because they would look for someone with ‘jewelry industry experience.' Unfortunately, industry experience almost always comes with a fixed set of useless ideas about the way things have to be done. Every company or industry that I’ve encountered has its own ‘gospel.’ The thing is that you can’t make much progress toward becoming a lean enterprise unless you challenge these head on and get beyond them.

Of course, taking leaps of faith and overcoming industry lore requires that the leaders create an environment where it is okay to fail. Learning from your mistakes is how you get better. I was always much more worried when I hadn’t heard about a lot of small failures for a while. It made me think that maybe people were just saving up for the really big mistake that could threaten the company’s existence.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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12 Comments | Post a Comment
kevin kobett August 16, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this comment

I prefer an incremental approach. Start with quailty circles. Let the cream rise to the top. Use this cream for the major initiative. 

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Anonymous August 16, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Lean isn't "nothing but incremental improvement." There are also Kaikaku, or step function, improvement opportunities through 3P, Kaizen Events, and other approaches. We can sometimes reinvent a process, not just incrementally improve it. Don't get me wrong, incremental Kaizen is powerful and it's a core aspect of Lean... but it's not the only way.

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Anonymous August 16, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

I also suggest that "a Kaizen" doesn't only mean "a weeklong Kaizen Event." Not all small incremental Kaizen improvements require a formal event, as you've written about before. I think it's less confusing to the readers if you say "Kaizen Event" when you mean that instead of saying "a Kaizen."

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art byrne August 16, 2016
2 People AGREE with this reply

Kevin, thanks for your input.If you prefer an incremental approach then that is what you should do. You won't get to a lean state very fast but you will be much happier. So good luck. I hope you are succesful. Art.

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sid joynson August 17, 2016
2 People AGREE with this reply

 

People don’t resist change. Look at their private lives and see the changes ‘they’ have made over the last 5 years.

The key to understanding this problem is to realise that people don’t resist change; they resist ‘BEING CHANGED’. All you have to do is put people in charge of their own change process. Give them some simple problem solving tools (not six sigma), a clear direction for the required changes/improvements (*P.Q.C.D.D --- 4 D’s --- E.F.S.F), time to address the issues in teams of **‘Real Experts’, a supportive management attitude and then get out of their way.  You will be amazed by the results. You can see this process in operation on You-tube under ‘Sid’s Heroes’. This an extract from a six programme TV series we made with the BBC in 1994,

Good luck releasing your own Heroes.

*For the business. --- Improve Productivity and Quality. Reduce Costs and Delivery times.   Delight Customers. (All these values must be improving faster than any existing or future competitor).

* For our machinery, processes and systems; Zero – Downtime, Delays, Defects & Damage to our people (Accidents).

*For themselves. --- Make their jobs, Easier, Faster, Safer and more Fun/enjoyable.

*We must create companies that can win on the global battlefield, and are secure, challenging and enjoyable places to work.

**‘Real  Experts’ are the people who do the work, and have first hand experience of the different elements of the problem to be solved, or the situation to be improved.

The survival of your organisation and the job security of your people depend upon you improving these values faster than any existing or future competitor.

Before we start a programme we conduct a series of 1 hour briefings (10 sessions a day with 25 people/ on each) with the people who will be involved in the change programme to ask for their help. We explain the above to delegates, and while they don’t always believe me, when I ask them would you like to, the answer is always ‘Yes’.  The rest is just letting them prove they are the ‘Heroes’ I know them to be.  Watch the video to see where my confidence comes from.

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Teags86 September 05, 2016

Perhaps my interpretation of parts of this article are incorrect,  but where you mention "leaps of faith" concerns me.

You can't make a change without knowing that change is an improvement on the existing change, surely? Mainly through some sort of problem solving session, root cause, data analysis, VOC etc  etc.  If you have done all that, the "leap of faith" is more  of "a step  of logic" in my mind.

I'm sure it was Albert Einstein  who said "When I have a week to solve a seemingly impossible problem, I spend 6 days defining the problem. Then, the solution becomes obvious"

 

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Teags86 September 05, 2016

apologies for hitting reply to  a comment as opposed to the actual article

art byrne September 05, 2016

Teags85, thanks for your comment. I think perhaps you are being a bit too literal in the way you interpreted this. The trap for the traditional company is speending massive amounts of time over analyzing everything to make sure there will be no misteaks, and then of course finding out, oops, they missed something and had a big problem anyway. This just makes them more cautious the next time around and progress slows down even further. With lean you are going much faster. Yes you don't make the move without studing it and determining that it should lead to a better result. Even so, something unexpected could still happen and you would have a problem. The lean company will respond very quickly, fix what went wrong and go foreward. The traditional company will more likely go back to the way it was as a first step and then go back to the lenghthy analysis to get a better result the next time. Both companies took a "leap of faith" when they actually moved the equipment [or rearranged the work flow, etc.]because there is always risk no matter how you plan. The lean company however moved forward while the traditional company, at least temporarily, went backwards.

kevin kobett August 16, 2016
3 People AGREE with this comment

Of course, you really do not know what to do until you set up an experiment to measure the current state of lean in your company. I was lean in companies that did not know what lean was. If you have money for consultants, someone in your company is doing a good job.

Maybe you are ready to go full steam. You have lean people and there is a high level of trust between gemba employees and management. The opportunities in such a company would be limited because innovation is alive. In these companies you have to make major changes in order to keep those who want to think. I quit two jobs from boredom.

Most companies have preliminary work to do. The experiment will tell you how to proceed.

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Paul Yandell August 17, 2016

I would advise anyone on a lean journey to fail fast and fail often.  Keep an open mind and learn as you go.  The journey is a lot more like sailing than driving - you know where you want to go but "they be monsters" and other unknowns along the journey.  Strong currents, and both favorable and unfavorable winds.  The best way to keep the crew together is celebrate wins, communicate frequently, and hang together.

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Mohamed Fazlulla August 31, 2016

Ther's nothing like incremental or anyother type of change. It's simply change and the pace of it depends entirely on how enthused or not the CEO who must be leading the change is. It all depends on him leading the charge for change. If he hasn't understood LEAN he will be incapable of changing anything

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art byrne September 05, 2016

Mohamed, thanks for your comment. I can buy your thought that change is chane however you define it. Your comment on the leaders [CEO in your example] is spot on. I always advize companies that if the can't get there CEO to lead the charge then they shouldn't try lean at all. Just be the best batch company you can be and hope that none of your competitors goes lean. 

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