Don't Let a Lean Vision Become Stagnant

Eric Bigelow

I have been a developing change agent at my company for years now. I have saved my company a lot of money and have been promoted twice. I have had the opportunity to be trained by multiple lean consulting firms and have traveled to Japan, Mexico and California for continuous-improvement training. I consider myself pretty fortunate that my superiors saw something in me that was worth investing in.

With that being said, I still struggle converting others to the continuous-improvement way of thinking. I know that I am not alone. I have been in frequent conversations with others who have the same issue. I think this is something that many change agents struggle with every day. It is frustrating and somewhat discouraging.

I personally have seen supervisors and managers squirm when I attempt to have standard work and process management discussions. I have seen leaders dig to uncover reasons not to move forward because it is easier to stay the same. If the amount of effort were put into evolving instead of maintaining the current state, most organizations would be exceptional ones. It’s hard to maintain an outspoken passion for lean when everyone around you seems to loathe it.

Of course, some of the lean transformation elements must be implemented by management, and it still boils down to what measurements are put into place. However, I truly believe that there wouldn’t be such resistance to lean culture and system changes if the viewpoint was slightly altered. I have come to realize that sometimes concepts that have been discussed for months with little success can be presented in a slightly different style and be accepted.

It’s similar to Coke and Pepsi changing their logos. They change every couple of years to keep their products fresh and interesting for the consumer. It’s amazing to me that the slight change in the packaging generates huge sales. This is a good strategy for lean change agents as well.

Lean advocates have to keep their product fresh and interesting. As advocates, we must develop new ways to illustrate the concept and display the benefits. Show others how lean will streamline their processes and ultimately make the job more rewarding and easier. We need to keep the vision dynamic and interesting; we can’t let the vision become stagnant. Sometimes the sheer passion, conviction and creativity that we display in tandem with sleek “packaging” can encourage others.

Develop new ideas as frequently as you can. Present them to management, supervisors and even shop floor personnel with conviction and excitement. Give multiple examples that can be understood by all.

Be your organization's "lean street preacher." Make powerful slide shows or flip charts filled with information. Explain all of the benefits and savings. Make it painfully hard to say no. Unfortunately, as much as I hate to say it, no will still be a possibility.

This “no” is what frequently gets the advocates disheartened. It gets incredibly tiring when you are attempting to construct a prospering lean company and no one wants to focus or do their part. It is frustrating when you are speaking in a language few in the organization understand. It can be exhausting to develop processes that return to the original wasteful state after a week of success. Without a doubt, these examples beat the advocate down.

However, we must continue to broadcast that a continuous improvement culture and lean systems will help our organizations prosper. Even if we are considered the outcasts for a while, it will be a great reward when the light switch is turned on. So hang in there.

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About the Author

Eric Bigelow is an industrial engineer and continuous improvement professional. He is currently a lean coordinator located in Spirit Lake, Iowa. He has trained numerous individuals in lean manuf...