Two out of three lean programs fail to achieve their initial objectives. My latest research asked 432 practitioners from 83 factories in two multinational corporations what they see as critical factors for succeeding with lean implementation. The research summarized five critical success factors for implementing lean programs that managers must get right. Is your organization on track?
#1 Commit to the lean program
It is beyond question that practitioners think that managerial commitment is the most important success factor—irrespective of differences in plant size, corporation, location and other factors. But it is not enough to just “lead from the office;” the managers must also participate personally on the shop-floor. This involves ongoing communication, listening to suggestions and questions from employees, and explaining why lean means change for the better.
#2 Train the workforce
A second critical success factor is to provide training and education in lean production for the whole workforce. Without knowledge in lean, a plant is not likely to succeed with its implementation. Importantly, managers are the first who need training and education. Learning by doing is a superior way to learn, but requires local coaching by trained managers or staff. In the early stages of lean implementation, external consultancy firms or internal corporate resources can help build the needed knowledge. Another quick way to learn is to benchmark other organizations that have implemented lean. On the whole, accumulating local knowledge is considered much more important than the continued use of consultants.
#3 Have a plan and follow it up
A third critical success factor is to have a plan and follow it up. Perhaps a good idea is to have a proper lean program in the first place, and a vision of where you want your organization to be. The plan should be broken down into defined steps. Clearly defined performance targets should be set and monitored. Regular meetings must be held in order to follow-up the implementation of specific projects. Managers must seek to integrate lean in everyday business, rather than run it as a separate, temporary project on the side of operations.
#4 Allocate resources and share the gains
Allocating the necessary resources to assist implementation and then share the gains with all employees is also critical for success. It is difficult for organizations to turn lean without a coaching and supporting local “lean team,” or a distributed task force in the organisation. It is also necessary to dedicate a budget for the transformation. Gains won through improvements should be shared. Reward and recognition schemes can be effective in the early stages, but managers should take care when designing reward and recognition schemes because the effects of such schemes seem particular sensitive to differences in cultural traits.
#5 Use lean tools and methods
Finally, the application of lean tools and methods is important. The specific lean tools and methods most frequently mentioned in the survey were waste reduction, visualization, problem solving, team concept, continuous improvement, daily management, value stream mapping, and 5S. These are all well-known methods from the lean production philosophy. Tools and methods are effective and necessary for succeeding with the implementation of lean in a plant, but they are not sufficient on their own; the four other success factors must complement the tools and methods.
This post is a summary of the research paper “Critical success factors for implementing lean production: the effect of contingencies”, accepted for publication in the International Journal of Production Research (IJPR). The paper can be downloaded at the publications page or at IJPR.
Check out this great inforgraphic of this article by Martin Munkeby : Five critical success factors for implementing lean programs