Editorial board member René Aernoudts responds to the article by Denis Becker, “Hard, fast results” appeared in the latest issue of LMJ.

In the December/January edition of LMJ, Denis Becker wrote about a topic we are all well aware of, and still a lot of people seem to struggle with: not being able to engage decision-makers in lean. Denis provides us with some interesting ideas and observations.

Firstly, that the lean community itself is the problem when it gets to decision-makers not “supporting lean.” That something is wrong with how we sell it and how we deliver on its promise.

Secondly, that lean should not be about the tools, but about business: making (and keeping) more money and beating the competition by improving much faster.

In  my (humble) opinion we should stop trying to “sell” lean altogether. Too many lean folks get stuck in their own behaviour/routine of “doing lean” or “selling lean” to people, or wanting to convince people that lean helps. I remember some tough discussions with people that wanted to become THE lean insurance company, or THE Toyota within their business field. Personally, I think you should be the best company you can be, with whatever clients you create value for.

Of course you could say that, in a way, this behaviour is admirable, that people get so convinced of the fact that lean can help. But I think they overdo it and get tangled up in a strange, almost fundamental or sectarian way of approaching lean. This is not helping them, their organisations or the lean movement as a whole.

People often “forget,” as Denis points out, that we use the lean methodology because it can help us to tackle specific business challenges. It can help us to clarify the problems (how big is it, is it vital for our success?), identify potential root causes (how can we be sure this is it?) and create countermeasures (how can we check if it will help?) that can support us in reducing or solving issues.

This is all true, but often the decision-makers are  either not aware of the problem or they have other opinions on what challenges they are faced with. Sometimes they have no clue of how these challenges can be overcome. There are different things you can do:

  1. As Denis says, you can pinpoint some of the business problems with simple charts that show the real issues;
  2. You can help leaders to understand the problems by taking them to the gemba, providing the opportunity to see with their own eyes (for instance try the Ohno circle, maybe even for as little as 20 minutes, or let them ask questions to the people on the floor,etc);
  3. If you can’t convince them to take a walk (or they lack the willingness to do so), make a short video (even double or triple the speed) following a product through the process, showing the opportunities;
  4. You can think of any other experience you can create that can have an impact, like visiting a client, visiting another organisation that uses lean or invite a respected speaker that has taken the journey and is seen as a peer by your own leader.

Once you pull this off, ask how what they’ve seen is relating to the business challenges, and how these can be worked on (by using strategic A3 thinking & practice). Denis states that once the core business problems have been pinpointed, appropriate analysis tools can be used to dig into root-causes and define a physical target condition and countermeasures to close the performance gap.

This is structured problem solving at a strategic level.

I fully agree with Denis when he says that lean people can get stuck in the use of jargon and KPIs, like lead-time. They should be able to link the lean ideas to concrete business results and targets, and not the other way around. If we can’t relate the shorter lead-time with real money, we have a weak case.

Halfway through the article, the author describes three things you should do to get people to want to do lean. First, selling lean is easier if people see it as a fun challenge. Here, I disagree: lean puts pressure on the system, which isn’t fun at all for most people. Teaching them to cope with this pressure and that they can create new solutions helps them, but it is not always fun at first.

Second, keeping it simple. Yes and no. Yes, we should keep away from the misusage of lean terms, but we should not oversimplify some of the challenges, they are not always easy to solve.

Third, old and static routines must be replaced with new and dynamic ones, which build and sustain the improvement momentum. I agree, but it’s not so much about replacing, which sounds like an easy “unplug/plug in” situation, but practising new activities that can become new routines.

Finally, I completely agree with Denis’ conclusion: the key to lean success lies in delivering hard business results fast, again and again. If we don’t see this happening, you should think again, and think how we can test our countermeasures in a short time frame, and see if the outcomes are real and solid.

Thank you, Denis, for a fine article. I look forward to reading your next contribution in this brilliant journal.