Nov 4 2011
On LinkedIn, Patrick Courtney asked the following question: “In your experience, with a Lean transformation program when can the program become a waste? Is there a tipping point? Please share your experiences and wins.”
Let us assume we are talking about a successful Lean transformation with a program office, headed by a lean champion and including a small group of project facilitators. The question then is whether there is a point beyond which this organization is unnecessary.
That a Lean transformation is successful means that practices from daily operations on the shop floor to strategic planning in the board room are more effective and efficient as a result of Lean, as evidence in business performance. At that point, people in the organization no longer refer to “Lean tools,” but simply to “the way we do things.” What was a change requiring adaptation is the new normal.
In principle, once Lean practices are assimilated into the company’s standard mode of operations, a program office is no longer necessary. In reality, there are some functions for which continued, organized support is necessary, such as the following:
- Continuous improvement. If continuous improvement is carried out through a system of circles or individual suggestions, then a structure will be needed to manage it and organize periodic conferences and award ceremonies.
- External certification. If the company is a part supplier, it may need to maintain its status as a “certified Lean” with some OEMs, and resources are needed to host audits and make sure that actions are taken as needed to ensure compliance.
- Supplier support. Companies that are successful at Lean commonly endeavor to pass their skills on to suppliers in exchange for price breaks, which requires a team of engineers.
Some people will remain involved with Lean, but in other roles than during the initial implementation, and often elsewhere on the organization chart. More generally, a successful change program should eventually fade away. For example, the pursuit of Total Quality Control (TQC) was a program in major Japanese manufacturing companies until the mid 1970’s, when all of them had received a Deming Prize. Then it gradually lost visibility, as everything they had learned from this program was integrated in normal operations and its principles had become part of the culture.