One in Fifty

Rick Bohan

That’s how many companies that start a lean initiative will seen any positive results from it, according to a survey conducted by Industry Week back in 2007. Just one in fifty….2%.

And here’s the thing…the lean tools and methods are very straighforward.  In fact, most of them are downright easy.  Take 5S…it doesn’t get any simpler.  Clean the place up!  Mark and label a home address for everything!  How hard is that, for gosh sakes?  Even some of the more “advanced” methods like kanban are pretty straightforward…make one, take one is pretty much the whole story.

Lots has been written about all this failure.  It’s because of lack of leadership commitment.  Or lack of employee engagement.  Or too much consultant jargon.  Or inadequate training. Or too much learning and not enough doing. Or…all of the above.  And, yes, some or all of those things are generally true in any failed lean initiative but some or all of them occur in most types of organizational change initiatives and they don’t have a 98% failure rate!

Why the high failure rate?  No one is quite sure, is my guess, but I have a hypothesis.

Here it is…managers and supervisors are lazy.  Well, not really.  I mean, all the managers I’ve know are willing to work very hard. But they work hard turning the same crank over and over with the same mediocre results.  Give a manager something new to do that even he or she agrees will make their lives better and, too often…they just don’t do it.

I think I’ve related the story here in my blog about the client that didn’t implement a simple supermarket …for TWO YEARS!  And the managers at the client had come up with the idea of the supermarket themselves!

I’ve known many other cases where managers and supervisors don’t undertake even simple initiatives, e.g., clear the clutter out of the area, even when their own bosses order them to.  I’ve seen supervisors and managers make excuses for months as to why they didn’t go get the label maker from the office and label the shelves that parts were stored on.

The “laziness” goes up and down the management ladder.  An operator is too lazy to organize supplies in the cabinet and mark the cabinet.  A supervisor is too lazy to tell the operator, “Organize that cabinet and label the shelves.”  A plant manager is too lazy to do a daily walk around and tell the supervisor, “I expect that cabinet to be organized and labeled.”  An owner is too lazy to do a weekly walk around and ask the plant manager, “Why the hell aren’t all my cabinets organized and labeled?”

What’s to be done, then?  Well, if the laziness truly does go up and down the ladder in the organization, there’s not much that can be done.  But, if there’s anyone anywhere on the ladder who is willing to devote him or herself to daily followup and follow through, there’s hope.  Because that’s what it takes.


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