Five ways a lean transformation goes off the track
Brad Cairns is the senior principal at the Center for Lean Learning and Quantum Lean. He also runs a woodworking business called Best Damn Doors in St Thomas, Ontario, Canada, where he puts lean thinking into action every day. You can reach Brad at 519-494-2883 or [email protected].

Are you pushing a train? Feel like this lean thing is just way too much work to be worth it? Perhaps you're questioning the principles and philosophy, or think that it might not apply to your specific business. What about if you are convinced lean is the answer, but you just can’t get anyone else on board.

Let's talk about what just might be at the root cause of any of these symptoms. After all, believe it or not lean thinking is a natural human condition. We love to make things easier, we enjoy being productive and at the end of the day, we all feel better on a high performing team.

Inspire management

The biggest problem in any lean transformation is usually management. Which manager you ask? Typically, upper management, middle management and shop floor management. There could be a million reasons why management is failing at one or all levels. I believe it usually boils down to one simple factor: Management is not inspired.

Nothing gets people motivated like true inspiration. Our immediate test for managers who say they want to go lean is whether or not they are doing it themselves, or have they tried to delegate it. The manager that says it's good for everyone else but not for them is a clear warning that this is going to be a bumpy ride. Lean is not designed for short-term financial gains or to save a sinking ship. Although both outcomes might happen, this shouldn’t be the “why” behind your motivation.

Please don’t mix up thinking something is a good idea with being inspired. When you just think it’s a good idea or are a bit wishy washy, the minute it gets difficult, you will likely fall back to your comfort zone and find some reason why you think lean doesn’t work. I promise there isn’t a business function on earth that lean principles do not apply to. When you are inspired, nothing can stop you.

Staying inspired

If you are truly inspired, you have a vision for your future, and nothing will get in your way. If you're struggling in general, the doctor prescribes a heavy dose of inspiration. Keep in mind that inspiration is a lot like taking a shower, I recommend it daily. My personal way to stay inspired daily involves being active in a lean community via group chats and watching improvement videos. Then at least twice per year I make sure to go on some awesome plant tours.

There is NOTHING that will get your juices flowing like seeing lean companies in action. The amount of knowledge, ideas and inspiration you bring home will keep the lean fires fueled until your next outing. If you are not yet connected with a lean community then don’t hesitate to join us at Quantum Lean. We will add you to our WhatsApp chat and immediately connect you to fellow lean maniacs at the push of a button. Then when you're ready to go see lean in action, get on our lean tours where we take you to companies that we can all learn from. 

The bottom line for all managers, you can’t buy lean. It's something you have to embrace heart and soul.  Anything short of that will make for a painful uphill battle.

Lack of training

The second biggest challenge and reason for lean failures is lack of training or just crappy training. I know it's hard to put the brakes on production to train people. Customers are yelling, deadlines approaching, bottom line isn’t where you need it to be, and the last thing you can think of is “I need to stop for training.” There is also the fear factor of training, you put all this time and money into people, and they end up leaving your organization. To which I always reply, what if you don’t, and they stay!

Everyones situation is different in how to execute training, but everyone is the same in that they need it. Remember, we humans learn when we repeat, repeat, repeat. A single blast of training might be great for the kick off, but you need to continue to pepper it in regularly. A great way to do this is to designate a few minutes in your morning meeting to team training. Don’t have a morning meeting yet? Might be a good time to start that, too.

It’s possible your organization doesn’t have an in-house lean trainer yet, or you're not sure what content to use. Our goal at Quantum Lean is to see you improve … period.  We have created short training videos on our website that fit perfectly into a morning meeting or other training sessions. It’s this kind of available and easy training that is a must for your team, and you will find it particularly helpful as you bring on board new employees and need to get them up to speed.

Measure your lean

The third hurdle to continuous improvement is metrics. It is important to collect relevant data and let your team know how they are doing. I don’t know that there is a sport on earth where we don’t keep score. The score is how we keep the players motivated and the fans screaming. But in business, we ignore the power of keeping score all while complaining that no one is motivated.

It's not easy, it does take some time and effort, but it's an absolute must when it comes to making sure your whole team is pulling in the same direction. We haven’t found a universal measurement that works for every situation, however, just make sure your people can answer the question, “Am I doing a good job today?”

Finding time

Fourth on the list, but one we have probably all experienced is “no time.” We view lean as something else we need to do. On top of our already crazy schedule it just doesn’t seem possible. Step 1 to correct this is to stop viewing it as an extra to your day, it should just be part of your day.

Once you switch on the continuous improvement part of your brain, sorry friend, there is no way to turn it off. Then to solidify lean in your life, it’s the same as anything else you want to get good at. You have to have pig headed discipline and carve out a small part of your day to make improvements. End of story.

Leave your comfort zone

And last but not least, the one thing that holds us all back from time to time is that darn thing called our comfort zone. If you are not purposefully reminding yourself to get the heck out of there, it's not likely new information is going to come knocking on your door.

Most things we are lacking at our businesses are simply the things that make us uncomfortable. Time to start facing those fears and discovering there wasn’t much to be afraid of in the first place.




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About the author
Brad Cairns | President/Owner/C-Level

Brad Cairns is the senior principal at Quantum Lean and is dedicated to improving the woodworking industry in North America using lean methods. He also owns Best Damn Doors, a cabinet door manufacturing business in St. Thomas, Ontario. You can reach Brad at 519-494-2883 or [email protected].