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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Ain’t No Such Thing as Sustaining

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Friday, April 29, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question: How can lean results be sustained over time?

It’s been difficult to maintain lean improvements. Our efforts have generated many successes, but not so many sustainable ones. We tend to involve dedicated lean experts, who become a constraint. When they turn their attention to the next improvement project, the one just completed degrades. Overall improvement progress is slow and the cultural change to continuous improvement is minimal.

We should get something out of the way right off: There’s no such thing as sustaining. There is no steady state. And, frankly, as long as we think there is we may not get much further with lean.

Thinking we can sustain and as a result just reacting to abnormalities = trying to manage entropy. That’s not likely to move an organization forward. And as that 2nd law of thermodynamics states: A process is either being improved or is declining, there’s not much in between.

It’s kind of ironic that the more we believe sustaining is possible, the more we get buffeted by unsustainability. Those who recognize that things are always changing, and that entropy is always at work, more deliberately navigate forward and thus experience more sustained success. As I wrote in Toyota Kata:

Toyota is achieving quality excellence not because a process is done the same way each time, but because Toyota is striving to achieve the target condition of the process being done the same way each time.

It’s a subtle distincton, but one that is critical to understanding Lean.

The best way to sustain lean results is to sustain improvement, toward your vision, as a part of every day’s activities. That, however, will require a shift in emphasis from periodic improvement projects led by lean staff to improvement as an everyday routine coached by managers.

Mike

(Thank you to Kelvin Smalley for his help with the first paragraph.)



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