Home > Lean > Success With Lean Isn't Just About Tools and Training …

Success With Lean Isn't Just About Tools and Training …

October 30th, 2012

Lean toolsI talk to people everyday in all kinds of industries who, for their own reasons, have decided that they need to do Lean.   And, in most cases … it’s pretty easy to confirm that they REALLY do have legit business reasons for doing Lean.  So far, so good … we’re talking about solving real business problems …  I’m happy.

Now, let’s start talking about execution.  Oh no … Almost always, the conversation jumps to Lean tools and tools training.  And, you know what …. tools and tools training are not the most important considerations for achieving success with lean.   There … I’ve said it …

Now, before I get people thinking I’m completely nuts and sending me nasty emails, I’m not saying that Lean tools aren’t important. Tool knowledge is obviously necessary, but it is absolutely not sufficient.  Here’s my thinking.

First, what is success, or maybe better, what is not success?  Success IS NOT training 100 people across 5 operations in Lean. Success IS NOT about certifications. Success IS NOT completing X projects last quarter, all with slick final report outs.  If these or things like them are your measuring sticks for success …. well, you’re just being lazy and I can assure you that your relationship with Lean will end badly.

Download our Lean Primer kit an overview of project selection and definition ….


I’ll argue that success can only be defined by BUSINESS RESULTS, results that can be objectively measured and verified. Am I improving service to the customer in a meaningful way? Am I reducing risk (compliance, regulatory, liability, etc) in some meaningful way?  Am I pulling cost out and improving margins? Am I making better use of finite resources? Am I doing a better job of retaining existing revenue streams? Am I doing a better job generating new top-line growth? etc, etc.

Squishy, feel-good measurements (# people trained, # projects executed, etc) really just equate to an academic exercise and, let me tell you,  I don’t talk to a lot of business leaders that are interested in academic exercises these days.  It’s all about results … show me the money …

So, without further adieu, here’s a 3-step formula for Lean success:  Identify your target, then take aim, then fire.   I know … I know … not exactly a sophisticated or earth-shattering pronouncement, but sometimes taking things that have been made unnecessarily complicated and putting them in overly simple terms helps …

Identifying targets is about aligning the lean effort with the REAL NEEDS OF THE BUSINESS. No squeaky wheel projects! Do things that matter.  Aiming is about defining and scoping projects so that they are well-defined and manageable. We don’t want boil the ocean things that have no chance of getting done and we don’t want death by a thousand cuts through the dreaded scope creep.  We want high-value projects that have a clearly defined scope and objective.   Then … and only then … we fire by attacking our good projects with good training and Lean project execution.

I know it’s simplistic and really just common sense, but all to often the identify and aim components are put on the back burner in favor of fire events like tools training and kaizen events.  Why?  Well, because identify and aim are just plain hard sometimes and it’s awfully easy to just train people and do stuff.

But, realistically, what’s likely to happen if the identify and aim components are ignored? You’ll get a lot of people trained and a lot of meaningless, squeaky wheel projects being worked on that really don’t make any measurable impact to the business. Training for the sake of training and projects for the sake of projects …. a recipe for a Lean train wreck you want to avoid.  But I maintain that if the 3 steps I laid out happen well, then success in terms of meaningful business results is always within reach, and meaningful business results is the right definition of success for Lean.

Thoughts?  I’d like to hear from you …..

  1. Sameer Peshave
    November 1st, 2012 at 04:16 | #1

    Dear Mr. Eric ,

    This is a terrific article and very factual …all misconsecption about Lean and it’s tools are clearly put by you and any intelligent person have some experience in quality can surely pick up what is good for his organization .

    The real implementation of the 3 steps mentioned by you , i think that is the challenge all of us needs to take .

    Thank you …
    Warm regards,
    Sameer Peshave .

Comments are closed.