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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: there is no end point to lean success, only transformation leading to increased performance

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, May 27, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Great question!  We thought we might sneak in over the fence unnoticed with that one.  The reality is an Industry Week survey like that one, that purportedly measures achievement of results, is purely subjective and depends highly on what the “anticipated results” are as the question suggests.  It tells us little about the actual success of the lean programs.  We were using it as it was one easy to understand factoid that shows companies are struggling with their lean programs because of the way they view them and approach them so it was convenient.  Let us assume that they are defining anticipated results too short term and unrealistically, which I would guess is true in many cases.  Then what is the problem?  Is it that they need to lower their expectations?  I do not believe so.  I think if you do some 5 why analysis you would find that the reason they have those short-term expectations and are judging the program that way is because they see it as a “program” to deliver short-term results rather than a broad and deep long-term culture change.  It is because they think that you can define a finish line and conclude “we are now leaned out.”  Why?  Because they see the world as a simple set of linear cause and effect chains.  I do this and I get that result.  Why?  Because their world view starting with early education is that their goal is achieve a certain result and if they are clever enough and work hard enough they should achieve the result or they have failed.  You can go further in the analysis but the point is that what they get is a result of thinking in the wrong way about the lean journey.  It is a journey, not a program in which you apply tools to a mechanical process and get specific measurable results.  That is not saying you should not strive to get results along the journey and there is much evidence that done well with highly skilled transformational leaders it is possible to get dramatic results.  Exactly when and how that occurs is very difficult to predict.  It takes extreme leadership focus, diligence, coaching and teaching and a specific skill set.  I would bet most of these managers lack all of those characteristics except perhaps intense focus on the results.  There is no finish line and there is no way to define a “lean success” as an endpoint, only as to whether it is an effective process of transformation that is leading to business results and the organization continues to strive for excellence.  You can’t measure the culture change but if you look closely with clear eyes you can see it and feel it.

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