The Truth about Lean Failures

The truth is, most lean implementations are a failure over long duration. The reasons could be many. However, some of them are the major causes, as identified by the people involved in the implementation. They may be the right or maybe these are just the symptoms. We have to find the root cause in our own organisation.

I did a survey last week and here are some of the top reasons for lean failures as per the readers of this blog. Thanks to all who contributed their valuable time to answer the survey. It was very insightful.  You too can spare just a minute to answer the survey here.

Top Management

  • Does not walk the talk
  • Does not buy in
  • Does not support the process
  • They are not committed
  • Lacks the leadership qualities
  • Fears loss of power or resources


  • Mindset change for the people
  • What’s in it for me
  • Resistance to change
  • Lack of understanding
  • Engagement
  • Responsibility without  Authority
  • Change agents not talking in their language


  • Is related to the culture and top management
  • People Lack Skills for implementation
  • Project thinking and not embracing it as a lifestyle
  • Random  application of tools
  • Did not consider continuous learning as part of the process


Are they really the cause of failure?

Be careful do not jump to conclusions here. Failure and success are pit stops on the journey of continuous improvement.  So do not dwell on this too much. It is good to know the reason so that you can figure out ways to counteract it. Learn from failure and find a way to succeed.

When you think something was the cause of failure, dig deeper. Find the root cause. It may be something else. If you jump on the first thing that comes to your mind then there are chances that you may be on the wrong boat.

For Top Management, ask if you are just blaming them for your failure. If they are responsible then what was the cause. Were they educated on the benefits? Did you get a buy in? What qualities do they lack? How can you sell the idea to them?

For culture, is the whole group prepared for the big change?  What does your culture lack?  Do leaders respect and engage people at all level? Do people with responsibility given the authority to change? Do you see improvement activities as value or as cost?

For Sustainability, Is this just a temporary phase? Can you learn from this experience and make the changes stick the next time?

So What is the Truth?

Are you part of failed Lean implementation? Hey, do not worry. You are not alone. Almost all of us have been there. It is a part of the process.

There few failures before you succeed. Moreover, if you do not take effort to sustain there can be a failure after the big success. The success and failure come and go. We see companies as successful ones, when they have far more successes than failures. Even the big companies like Toyota have failed, but they did not stop there. The truth is only persistence matters. So take actions, fail fast to succeed fast.

Other truth is the way we think. We (mostly the western world) have the mindset of result-focused approach. Nothing wrong in having goals, but the problem lies in the means to achieve the goals (More about this here). Under traditional management, people who focus on the means are not always recognized. Like one of the person in survey said, “They promote the heroes- fire fighters …” These people achieve some incredible results, which are only short term and neither try to solve or prevent the issues from happening in the future

What is your Story?

People always want to hear about successes. However, there is lot to learn from failures too. I would love to hear your story about a failure. Were any of these reasons responsible? What did you do about it?

Become a Good Manager: Simplify your Work-Space

In the previous post we talked about focusing on changing ourselves before starting the change in the company. Learning to change and adapt to meet the new challenges is the key to lead and survive any major transformation process. But how do we start changing ourselves?  This is the question we will try to answer today. This is by no mean a complete or the only way to transform your habits to become a good manager but it provides a starting point to one aspect that you see and use every day.

Why to Simplify your Work-Space

Our work space tells us a lot about how we work. If your desk is over crowed with documents, unwanted samples and other things then it is clear how disorganized you are. If that is your state imagine you preaching others on shop floor or office to be organized. It will be hard to gain their confidence. How about applying 5s to your office/desk?

Applying 5S in Office

The following presentation provides a guide to applying 5S to your office/desk. You can use it to improve your work area. The purpose of going through this exercise is beyond mere cleanup of your desk. It builds the right habits necessary to develop mindset for continuous improvement. So try it out and if you do great please share your success stories by sending us your before and after pictures.

Remember this is just the starting point and we will learn lot more as we practice daily.

Become a Good Manager: Change Yourself Before Changing Others

Before you start on any change process like Lean you have to understand yourself and what you want. You have to focus on one thing that is important. Understanding and experiencing the change yourself is the only path to become a good change agent. Thus the focus is changing you.

The changes that need to be done in most organizations, big or small, are of almost revolutionary nature. If you do not prepare yourself for the war you will be destroyed the first day you set foot into the battle.

The changes that will take or should take place are not merely physical. You have to prepare yourself to change the way people behave and think. Changing the way you behave and think may need to be changed. For this you need to have an open mind. We had previously discussed the exercise to clear your mind here. This readies you to learn new things.

The next step is learning how to simplify and minimize.

“Perfection is achieved ,not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” – Antoine De Saint-Exupery


“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo Da Vinci

Did that thought worry you? Are you afraid of letting go something? This is exact same fear going through the minds of people you are trying to change. As leader you have to understand the psychology to be more effective change agent.  The core of lean is about understanding what is of value and what is not. You should practice it in your daily life and work before you start preaching it to others.

So what do you think should be minimized and simplified?

Simplicity in our Problem Solving Efforts

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius

Problem solving is simple irrespective of what the problem is or what methodology you are using. But we insist on making it complicated. Sometimes tools are given some fancy names and later on recycled and marketed with another fancy name. There are good reason for that and there are bad. But we have to remember that the problem solving is simple when you look at the basics. You determine what the problem is , and agree upon the direction we want to move. Then we take small steps or experiments which move us incrementally towards that direction.

Ways to Make Lean Work for you

Lessons from the Lean Transformation of a Small Manufacturing Company

Lean is often considered as a strategy for large corporations, but in reality Lean is better suited for small businesses and even non-manufacturing operations. Here are 3 ways to make Lean work for you regardless of your size or industry.

I recently presented this ideas at  “International Lean and Six Sigma Conference” Orlando Florida. Following is the copy of the presentation on slideshare. I will be interested in hearing what you think and answer any questions.

Become a Good Manager: Starting with an Empty Glass

Only an empty Glass can be filled with something new. If your glass already full there is no place to learn new things. Thus you need to be able to free yourself from the pre-conceptions and ideas that clutter your mind. Only then you will be able to learn something new. If you want to be a good manager or learn any new problem solving or process improvement methodologies you need to be able to completely submit yourself to that philosophy. With preconceived notions it is impossible to fully understand a new idea.

The Noise

You are exposed to too much of information through TV, Internet and other means. We have a constant pressure to retain so much information in our daily life. Email passwords, grocery lists, remembering to pay your bills are just few things that keep our find full. As our lives get busier, we are under constant fear of forgetting something. With all this going on our mind, there is no time to think, reflect, analyze. We only react to things as they happen. A life like this is unsatisfying. If you want to be a better manager first you need to learn how to manage your own life.

How do we clear our mind?

There are many ways to do it. I generally classify them as methods involving Mind, Body actions and a combination of both. Let us explore some the methods.

Writing: I am not talking about writing as creative expression. You want to write to free up our mental space so that our deeper thoughts come to the surface. This helps us understand ourselves. To use writing for clearing your mind, all you need is a pen and paper. We start writing whatever that comes to our mind, to do list, things that bother us, things that make us happy, places to visit, etc. You write till you are run out of ideas to write. Don’t worry about grammar, form, style of writing. You should be writing freely what comes to your mind. Make it a daily practice to write 2 to 3 pages. Which is approximately 600-900 words, don’t worry about counting them. Some days you will write more and other days you will write less. Only rule is to use only pen and paper. This ensures that you are not reformatting, deleting or adding things in between. We don’t want these distractions in our process.

Meditation: Though some may think it is a difficult process it is a much easier process than what you can imagine. If you have never practiced meditation before you may want to try some guided meditation from here and here. There are many other resources online which help you on this topic. The purpose of this process is to slow down the mind and remove all the noise that clutters your thoughts. The result is a focused mind.

Walk/Run: Running or just walking also helps to clear your mind. Gets your thoughts aligned. It may be the fresh air or physical activity that freshens up the mind. It is one the feel good activity that I like to do whenever I get the time.

Slow down: This is one thing that we the people in modern world think is a luxury of the past. We don’t want to miss this or that, without realizing that we miss most of it. We try to do lot more than what we need, always running out of time at work and at home. Slowing down and focusing on what you are doing at present helps you focus and makes you more effective. This way you don’t miss out on details or jump to conclusions. This is very important skill for problem solving.

Take a break:  Everyone deserves a break. Every once a while you need to break away from the routine. It may be vacation or just a coffee break. When your mind reaches its saturation point there is no point straining yourself beyond that point. It is best to take a break and let the subconscious mind do the work and may be you will have a Eureka Moment.

Do Something Fun: Do anything that allows you relax your mind, maybe something creative like drawing, painting or playing music or physical activity like dancing or going to gym. Anything that you enjoy will work to help you refresh your mind.


Practicing Behavior Patterns are More Important than Tools

Many companies fail to reach the success similar to that of Toyota as they randomly apply tools and techniques of lean. The right way as proposed in “Toyota Kata” is practicing the behavior patterns in our daily routine. This thought is in alignment with the previous post about how the business should manage itself. Practicing behavior patterns forces us to focus on the means people use to run the business.

Why learning and practicing behavior  pattern is more important than learning the tools?

It is all about cultivating right habits. When you expect to change culture by teaching and applying tools and techniques it is only superficial.It does not guarantee the change in the thinking model of the people involved. Thus a cultural shift is unlikely.

On the other hand when you learn and practice behavior patterns it cultivates habits. Thus changing people at a different level than just learning new tools. There is a shift in thinking and perception. This is a likely condition under which an organisation may undergo a cultural shift.

Now the big question is : What are these right behavior patterns that patterns that we need to learn and practice on daily basis to continuously improve, adapt and prosper?

Managing by Means and Not by Results

Toyota has been successful at what they do for several years. Many have tried to imitate them only to be limited by their understanding of the “know why”. One of the main philosophical difference between Toyota and many others trying to follow their methods is that Toyota truly manages by mean and not by results. I just started to read “Toyota Kata” by Mike Rother. It was the interesting conclusion of the foreword written by H. Thomas Johnson which inspired me to write this post.

Lean Philosophy is less discussed topic for the practitioners who merely want to get on the “me too” boat. The blame partly goes to our existing management system which is too focused on end results than on the means to get there.

What are the means and why are they important?

Adopting the continuous improvement of process is the means for financial success and long term growth of the company. But if you focus on the financial results only and not worry about the means your people use it will harm the long term growth and success of the company. The means come before the profits. This wisdom is captured in the verse of “Bagvath Gita”:

Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,

Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani

It simply means “Do your duty, without the being obsessed about the results.” Our duty here is continuous improvement the process that delivers value to the customer.

Here are some of examples where ends become important than the means for short term gain, but ultimately causing long term harm:

  • When you ask to ship all orders o same day. It could lead to bad practices like having excess inventory or working overtime
  •  When you want better utilization of labor without considering the demand, it will lead to practice of over production

We see similar examples in our day to day life yet we fail to understand the subtle difference it makes when you put the right means ahead of the profit. What are your thoughts? Are you truly focused on the means or just the end?


Build Your Own Stand-Up Workstation: It is Free to Get Started

This is for anyone who wants to try a standup desk for their office or home office

1. Free to get started

It is very easy to get started with Standup Work station. If you just want to test the idea without investing into any furniture, just stack few books or set a box on top of your existing desk . This setup will enable you to decide if this is will work for you. Standing up may be difficult for you initially, so don’t be afraid to sit every once in a while till you get used to it. It may take a week for you to get comfortable. The limited space on the desk makes it clutter free. you tend to keep only the items you need on the desk

2. I liked the set-up , now I want the real thing!

Now that you have tested your setup and you are comfortable standing you may consider building or buying a stand-up desk. Building your own desk is not possible for everyone so I have included some ready to use Stand up desks below. Click on the picture check them out and find the one that is suitable to your need.

Option 1 Option 2 Option 3

3.Accessories that you may need to build mobile stand-up station

This is for the ones who like to be out there on the gemba. If you want to take your desk anywhere on the shop floor all you need is the a stand-up desk with casters and a laptop with wi-fi(optional) connection. You may also consider buying a Power strip (shown below) if you will be out there for extended period of time.

I use a a desk-top computer with UPS which provide about 20 minutes of power when moving around. Since it did not come with a inbuilt Wi-Fi capability I have to use a USB Wifi Network Adapter. You may not need this if you don’t need to log into a network to access your files. It is better to avoid any distraction of surfing the web when you are on the shop-floor.
I hope this will get you started with your own Stand up Desk. Please feel free to share your experiences or pictures of your standup desks. I will keep posting my progress with this experiment on my blog and will try to incorporate suggestions provided by all of you.



You may be also  interested in:

1. Standup Workstation

2. Standup Workstation: After 2 Weeks

3. Stand Workstation: What is on the Wall?

Learn From Other’s Mistakes But Don’t Forget to Make Your Own!

We we try something new often people find out how others have done it in the past to avoid doing the same mistakes . Like in lean transformation we try to copy the path taken by the successful companies and apply tools and methods exactly the same way thinking we can save ourselves the pitfalls of the change process. We want to learn how people failed doing something and then avoid doing it ourselves thinking we are saving ourselves from the trouble. This may help us for short time but is not necessarily the best way.
Each organization, each process and people are different. We cannot expect the same results by applying what others have done. There is a need to experiment, allow failure and learn from it. People learn a whole lot from failure than from a success. Failure forces people to think, by thinking we learn by learning we improve.
By all means get out there and learn from others but don’t stop experimenting yourself. Learning from your own mistakes will make you and your team confident and successful at implementing Lean Transformation and will make you experts specifically for your processes. This knowledge cannot be build within the organization by just learning about what others are doing.