Have you ever found yourself on a journey that didn’t seem to be getting you to where you wanted to go? At what point did you call it quits? Was it before you spent far more than what you estimated in time and expense–only to find yourself a long way from where you set out to reach? Suppose you finally broke down and asked directions–and then realized that everyone else who was trying to get to your destination was lost as well? Wouldn’t that be enough to say that it’s time to try a new way?
Apparently not if your journey involves going lean.
It is frustrating to see that, after decades of attempting “mainstream”* lean methods, how few organizations have succeeded in achieving anything near what the benchmarks demonstrated to be possible. And it appears that this problem is finally becoming recognized; leading lean proponents have found the need to address very basic questions, such as why don’t companies seem to see financial benefits? Some explain that most are simply not as good as Toyota at doing this. Even Jim Womack, the well known author who is widely acknowledged to have launched this movement, pointed out a glaring issue. Just a few years ago in a podcast interview with LeanBlog he stated that very few–perhaps just a couple–could really claim that they’ve gotten anywhere close to what is possible.
But now this same approach to implementing lean is being applied to everything from hospitals to government. Many are being trained, others certified, to lead lean journeys. But isn’t this a problem if this pathway cannot be clearly shown to achieve the results that are really needed?
Let me ask this another way. If pretty much everyone is getting it wrong, can we really say that it’s their fault? At what point should we start questioning the roadmap they’ve been given?
My increasing frustration was what drove me to research and write the book, Going Lean: How the Best Companies Apply Lean Manufacturing Principles to Shatter Uncertainty, Drive Innovation, and Maximize Profits (the title offers a glimpse into what going lean is really about). And the clear need for a better description of what the path to lean should and should not look like is the reason for my follow-on book, The Going Lean Fieldbook: A Practical Guide to Lean Transformation and Sustainable Success (AMACOM, 2011).
The increasing popularity of these works indicates to me that organizations are finally beginning to see the need to try a new way. It’s not too late to keep the lean movement on track to achieve the core benefits that have been demonstrated to be possible–particularly since these are precisely what companies and institutions so desperately need to thrive in today’s challenging environment.
*[Note: I use the term "mainstream" to describe the popular methods that condense "lean" down to discrete tools and techniques, as opposed to the less-cited writings providing the context and mechanics for a needed pathway to measurable, sustainable lean transformation.]