Five critical success factors for implementing lean programs

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?

critical success factors for lean implementation

#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

4 thoughts on “Five critical success factors for implementing lean programs

  1. Lean manufacturing advances productivity that began from the automobile business to enhance process stream by disposing of waste while Six Sigma, which started from the gadgets business, the advances adequacy by enhancing quality and precision through the decrease of varieties.Lean as well as Six Sigma philosophies have ended up popular on the planet on the grounds that since numerous commercial enterprises have accomplished huge advantages by actualizing Lean and Six Sigma.

  2. I would like to add another critical success factor which is ” the leadership”. It could be part of the first factor, but I think it is important enough to be a factor by itself. what do you think?

  3. Hello,

    I read this article and “Manufacturing Cost Deployment: How to select the right projects”. They are related because where to focus Lean is selecting the right projects.

    What bothers me about such articles is the focus on cost reduction rather than throughput increase. To me this focus on cost reduction is a manifestation of the prevalent way of managing – by local optimisation. In these articles we would be optmising manufacturing, but not necessarily the business.

    If increasing Throughput were the focus, then an important part of a project would be to make sure the increased Throughput can actually be sold! Many times sales can be increased since throughput improvements must bring with them both lead-time and reliability improvements.

    An interesting article in APICS compares Lean with 6-Sigma and TLS (the combination of Theory of Constraints, Lean and 6-sigma). In the case of TLS the theory of constraints focuses efforts while Lean and 6-Sigma provide tools. The conclusion of the article was TLS results in by far superior results. (The article is in APICS from some time ago).

    It might be interesting to repeat that experiment in many factories in many industries!

    Rudolf Burkhard

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