As a trainer and consultant of Lean Construction, I have always been passionate about the human side of Lean. I have been observing the behaviour of people in a lot of companies regarding the cultural changes that comes with implementing Lean. Based on my own experiences, I have compiled 5 key ideas that make companies be more successful in implementing Lean.
1. Understanding the Lean philosophy and Lean thinking
At the 2013 LCI Summit UK, Daniel Jones said : “One of the great mysteries of the Toyota Production System was discovering that Toyota made people first and then built cars that people wanted.” Techniques, tools, and technologies help a lot to implement Lean Construction, but they are not sufficient by themselves. If you want to be successful in the long term, within your organization, you need to have an army of people who believe and live the Lean philosophy.
A few years ago, a manager of a small construction supplier in Spain invited me to see how they implemented Lean in his company. What surprised me most was that the general manager chose a random worker and asked her to explain me their Lean method around all processes. Absolutely everyone in the company had the ability to do this. Thus, the Lean culture was in their DNA.
Figure 1: Cultural change means 80% of the formula in the Lean implementation
2. First routines, then cultural change
If you expect the culture of your company to be changed by simply explaining the benefits of Lean, you will surely fail. The traditional approach has been to first change the culture and after that, people hope that changes will occur by themselves. But this strategy usually fails. Companies that have successfully implemented Lean do just the opposite: first conduct behavioural change through new routines (e. g., Last Planner System, daily stand-up meetings, and weekly meetings), then a change in attitude occurs due to this new standards, and finally, people begin to experience a cultural change within the company.
Figure 2: The Lean approach to change the culture starts by changing employees’ behaviors
3. Sharing knowledge and learning quickly from mistakes
Peter Senge (2006) said that “the most successful organizations of the 21st century will be those that are open to learning”. This is another fact that I have also seen in some companies. People who work in a learning environment consider the company, not only a place to go to work, but a place to learn how to offer a better product or service every day. Steven J. Spear (2008) summed up this strategy in a cycle consisting of 4 steps:
- Learn to see problems when they occur and make them visible.
- Attack and solve problems immediately where and when they occur.
- Sharing new knowledge throughout the organization.
- Learn to lead the development of the 3 previous points.
Figure 3: Sharing knowledge around the whole company is one of the strategies of implementing a Lean Culture
4. Quick feedback loops between employees and managers
Companies that want to succeed with Lean must move from a hierarchical command and control management towards a stage in which employees can easily propose their ideas and implement them to improve. This way of thinking implies having leaders, not bosses, who support and effectively manage ideas and daily improvements.
Figure 4: Relationship between employees and managers in a Lean Company versus a Mass Production Company
5. Adopt holistic or systematic thinking
Peter Senge (2006) states that “the ability to learn faster than your competitors, may be the only competitive advantage in this century”. Over the years, I have been performing some dynamic activities such as “Systems Thinking Square Lean Games” with people from different cultures, countries and hierarchical positions. The conclusions have always been the same: in the first few minutes, people tend to protect their territory and work, moreover they remain resistant to change, not seeking the global optimum but their own benefit. After a few minutes and thanks to their previous training on Lean, most of the participants discover for themselves that the only way to having success in implementing Lean is to work together as a team. Finally, they end up adopting a more open and holistic way of thinking and are able to solve the challenge.
For a long time, Western companies and consultants didn’t understand the secret of the Toyota Production System beyond the Lean tools. Nowadays, thanks to several studies quoted in this post, we know that the cultural change is one of the most importants elements of a Lean transformation.
1. Rother, Mike (2009). Toyota kata. Managing people for continuous improvement and superior results. McGraw-Hill Education, New York, USA.
2. Soltero, Conrad & Boutier, Patrice (2012). The 7 Kata: Toyota Kata, TWI, and Lean Training. Productivity Press, New York, USA.
3. Harada, Takashi & Bodek, Norman (2012). The Harada Method the Spirit of Self-Reliance. PCS Press Inc.
4. J Spear, Steven (2008). Chasing the Rabbit: How Market Leaders Outdistance the Competition and How Great Companies Can Catch Up and Win. McGraw-Hill.
5. M. Senge, Peter (2006). The Fifth Discipline, the Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. Doubleday.