Designing a Lean Transformation Program

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Lean is the number one improvement methodology.

It seems like everyone is working to make their organization lean!

And in fact, many organizations are improving performance and changing their culture through effective lean transformation programs. In contrast, other organizations are simply using a few common techniques from the lean tool box. Sadly, they are just scratching the surface and are far from reaping the big rewards available to those taking a comprehensive approach. There are also many organizations where solid lean programs exist in one functional area, but senior executives have not seen the possibilities, or they lack the courage, to expand lean to all functional areas.

Leaders vs. Laggards

Using these four indicators of success, let’s examine the differences between the leaders and the laggards:

 1. Methodology


The leaders take a very systematic approach when applying the five principles of lean and leveraging key concepts such as the seven types of waste. Tools such as value stream mapping have prescribed steps that, when followed, produce excellent results and allow an organization to develop a culture of continuous improvement.


The laggards find one or two techniques from the lean tool box that seem easy and they overuse these techniques in an attempt to cut costs in a chaotic manner. Not following the systematic approach built into each lean tool will often result in an unsatisfactory outcome.

2. Measurement


The leaders will assess all of their value streams and then focus attention on areas that need improvement. They will measure performance and celebrate improvements. In terms of the cultural transformation, the leaders will conduct periodic surveys of employees to measure progress and make course corrections as needed.


The laggards will not begin with an assessment of their value streams; they tend to focus attention on symptoms. For example, they might work to “fix” the forecasting process instead of reducing cycle time in order to eliminate the need for item level forecasts. Tracking the cultural transformation is not part of the plan for most of the laggards.

3. Community


The leaders will join the lean community and be visible at lean educational and networking events. They will seek to learn from others and will also host tours or give presentations as a means to “give back” to other like-minded organizations.


The laggards will not have the time or money for attending lean educational and networking events. Most will not have success stories they can share and they cannot benefit from the concept that it is better to give than to receive.

4. Coaching


Leaders understand that the techniques from the lean tool box are systematic and how they are most effective when people are coached to use them correctly. Large organizations tend to develop internal full time lean experts that can help others get started with improvement projects. Many small and medium organizations will leverage experienced consultants that can coach their employees with an emphasis on “teaching them how to fish.”

Lean is number one because it has a rich history of success.


Laggards tend to learn by skimming articles and viewing a few webinars. They stick to one or two techniques from the lean tool box and usually perform the easy to understand steps while skipping those that seem difficult. Another popular method is to hire a lean expert – everyone knows that lean is number one and everyone has it on their resume! This approach can work very well if you hire someone with experience with one of the leaders. It can be a disaster if the so-called lean expert used to work for another laggard and has left a wake of mediocrity behind them.


Lean is number one because it has a rich history of success. Those that focus on the systematic elimination of waste supported by a comprehensive approach are the leaders. Those that chase cost cutting in a chaotic manner, without the desire for a cultural transformation, are the laggards.

The return on investment between the leaders and the laggards are great. However, there is good news for the laggards. They can get on the road to success by leveraging the four critical ingredients of lean transformation programs.

We do not need leaders and laggards! Through a comprehensive lean transformation program, all members of the lean community can win with lean.


Additional Reading

Designing a Lean Transformation Program 

Lean Government is Good Business


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