We all experience failures on our lean journeys. Most of the time, all you hear about are the success stories with dramatic results in leadtime, inventory and floor space. Very little is spoken of the failures and actions taken to overcome them. During my lean journey, I have learned more about lean and myself when faced with these failures. Every company on a lean journey has faced failures. If you are struggling on your lean journey, you are not alone and there are many ways to overcome failure.
1) Keep Trying. The first lesson is to understand and accept failures as you move forward with applying lean principles. Use these failures as powerful learning experiences. If you keep trying, you will overcome the problems. Countless times, leaders of companies have told me that they are on their third or fourth attempt at lean due to past failures. It would easy for any one of these companies to give up but they are persistent in their quest of lean. Real failure does not occur until you give up.
2) Fully Engage. Some companies start their lean journey as a part-time project. They may make a formal announcement and assign the lean project to one of the executives to oversee. Initial improvements are made but within a few months the lean initiative falls by the wayside. To succeed, they company should not dip their toes in the water but jump in the shallow end and start learning to swim. Become fully engaged in the pursuit of lean from the CEO/Owner to the temp workers. Lean is not delegated to just the manufacturing shop floor, its a philosophy of continuous improvement for the entire organization. Don't battle waste in your company, declare war on waste.
3) Seek Help. In American culture today, we are driven by the self-help mentality. We have self service at the gas pumps, self serve drinks in many restaurants, self-help books, do-it-yourself home repair/remodeling, self-serve airline ticket kiosks and self serve banking with ATM machines. For the most part, we like the freedom and independence to do it ourselves for personal satisfaction or to save money. This go-it-alone approach may work in some cases but not succeed in all. Look at any championship team, did they win by individuals working alone without seeking help? No. Even professional athletes who are top in their game have coaches and trainers plus countless other support personnel to continuously improve their game. These coaches and trainers provide value in helping improve the performance of any athlete. The same goes for your golf game. Golf is a simple game to understand but difficult to achieve a great performance without seeking help. A coach or teacher can help you improve your golf game beyond what you are capable by yourself. Lean is the just the same and seeking help is the best way to succeed.
4) Share the Wealth. A few companies that attempt to use the lean approach are motivated purely by self interests. I am not referring to companies that are trying to compete in the global market or trying to turn things around. The self-interest I am talking about is greed to feed their seemingly never ending appetite for earnings usually at the expense of customers, employees and suppliers all in the name of just doing business. From my point of view, this short sighted business approach will mark the decline and ultimate demise of these companies. Just like dinosaurs that once roamed this planet, their days will end. To succeed on your lean journey, take the opposite approach and share the wealth. Pass on a portion of the savings to your customers, improve pay or perks to employees and partner with your suppliers. If you focus on solely internal savings, there will only be small gains. Take the viewpoint to improve things directly for your customer. Make tasks easier and better for employees. Help your suppliers improve their operation and share the savings. By sharing the wealth, everyone benefits and additional gains are created. There is strength in numbers so don't create a culture of us (the corporate inner circle of trust) against them (your management, employees, customers and suppliers). Expand your circle of trust and share the wealth.
5) Listen to Others. Some management believe that they know better than others, especially employees, on what to do or how to run the business. The best source of expert knowledge is found with your employees. Instead of telling them what to do all the time, ask them how we can make your job easier or better. Listen carefully to them and then take action to improve their jobs! Ask them to help solve other problems like declining sales or capacity issues. You will be surprized at the improvement ideas that they can come up with that you would not have discovered. Don't just listen to your employees, take the time to really listen to your customers and suppliers. Engage them to find out how you can improve, then fix it.