Keys to Lean Success

Published November 2012

As a consultant specializing in Lean methodologies, Iím occasionally asked to identify the primary factors in determining an organizationís degree of successful implementation. My list is surprisingly short.

The first factor is typically evident by the time we complete our first phone conversation. In fact, I generally have a decent read as soon as I understand who Iím talking to and where they fit within the potential clientís organization. Factor Number One is simply the commitment level of the senior leader.

So when City of Fort Dodge City Manager David Fierke personally contacted me in early 2009 and clearly articulated his vision for how Lean methods could help his organization, the first hurdle to success was practically cleared. Today other municipalities are calling David and his leadership team asking for advice.

Likewise, when I received an impassioned plea for help late last year from Nicole Hunt of Fairfield Line, a multi-generation family business facing some stiff challenges, one of my first questions regarded the callerís position within the company. No doubt my pulse quickened when she responded, ďItís my business!Ē

Obviously the phone call itself is not paramount. But investing the personal time to investigate and phone screen potential consultants is indicative of the level of ownership which the senior leader personally feels to the success of the effort.

During the course of the call we discuss how success will ultimately be determined by the new tools introduced. More importantly, however, will be the culture of the organization, that is, the mindset of the employees utilizing those new tools. We discuss how changing organizational culture always lies with leadership.

At this point in the conversation I ask if the leader is prepared to make the tough decisions, to the point of slaying some sacred cows if necessary.

ďWe have to!Ē was Davidís response. ďWe have no other choice.Ē

ďAbsolutely!Ē was Nicoleís answer. Her voice was as convincing as her choice of words.

Factor Number Two is a strong offshoot of Factor No. 1. It is the quality and availability of the internal resource assigned to become the internal coordinator for the initiative. While the senior leader is ultimately responsible for establishing the environment where the effort can be successful, it typically isnít realistic for them to also become the technical expert on the various tools.

Letís be honest; some consultants overstay their welcome. Occasionally thatís because the organization hasnít done an adequate job of weaning itself. Selecting a capable and available internal expert therefore guards against that occurrence.

Thus selecting a very capable employee to be a liaison to the external consultant is critical. This individual is responsible for absorbing as much knowledge and experience from the consultant as possible and for helping them effectively apply it within the organization. The ideal internal candidate should be a quick learner and be respected by others within the organization as a high performer.

The selection of the internal resource and the amount of time theyíre expected to support the effort is the ultimate reflection of the senior leaderís commitment. In the case of the City of Fort Dodge, David tapped his most trusted staff member and made the Lean transformation his top priority. At Fairfield Line, Nicole selected an up-and-comer with a passion for Lean and learning, and also made it his top priority.

I strongly suspect that these two factors accurately predict success not only with a Lean initiative, but with any organizational change that ultimately relies on new behaviors and new ways of thinking. In such cases, the senior leader should have their hands securely on the wheel.

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