Home' AME : AME Target Summer 2018 Contents 16 TARGET AME.ORG/TARGET
eaders in organizations across
industries are always looking
to “speed-up” a lean trans-
formation. This subject must
be approached with great
care. First, let’s define what
it means to be practicing lean (the term
“practicing” is deliberate). More and
more people now understand that it is
about creating a culture of continuous
improvement (CI), and not about imple-
menting a set of tools.
What does it take to transform a culture?
Simply put, it requires time and a lot of
practice. This is not the answer that lead-
ers want to hear, but it is nevertheless
true. It is possible to accelerate a lean
transformation, not to “light speed” mind
you, but perhaps to a speed faster than
those organizations who went before.
This can be done if—and it is a big if—
we learn from the experiences of those
organizations, adapt accordingly and
begin in earnest with the right approach.
It’s about culture not tools
What are these experiences from which
we can learn? Many organizations lament
a flawed start to a lean transformation,
often describing the need to change
approach after a difficult first one to
three years. Often the cause of this is the
aforementioned “tools approach,” and
not understanding that the real objective
is creating a CI culture.
Who defines culture in organizations?
Its leadership. All roads will ultimately
lead to front-line and middle managers
working with their natural work groups
to practice continuous improvement.
Their behaviors and beliefs define local
cultures within organizations. Therefore,
front-line and middle management
must be fully involved from the
beginning. They have always been
the key to success—and the biggest
obstacle—to any major change effort.
A strict tools approach without under-
standing this fact will slow your cultural
Short-term performance results can be
achieved with a tools approach, often in
combination with a short-term “events
approach” (discussion forthcoming).
However, those gains are often unsus-
tainable because those approaches do
not help local leaders to fully understand
or accept the underlying lean concepts.
There’s more to CI than events
Another key lesson involves the event-
based approach to implementing change.
Many organizations take a rapid-
improvement- or kaizen-event based
approach. Resources from outside the
area in which change is being made
often facilitate such events. They can
be external consultants or individuals
from the organization’s Kaizen Promotion
Office (KPO), lean group—whatever title
they may have. There is some benefit
to this approach, as the events demon-
strate that change can happen quickly.
A “project approach” is similar. CI projects
typically involve a cross-functional team
and take place over several months.
Again, there is benefit to this approach,
as it allows for more complicated
problems to be addressed over time.
However, you will not quickly achieve
the cultural change if you continue to
depend on tool-, event- or project-
These approaches fail because they
are episodic. They alone do not provide
adequate opportunity for the learners to
practice process improvement, which is
required to quickly develop the requisite
skills and mindsets. Research shows
that it takes a minimum of four to seven
repetitions to begin to store any learning
to short-term memory. Further, people
can forget up to 70 percent of what they
learn if they do not use what they’ve
learned within a few weeks. The expres-
sion “if you don’t use it, you lose it” has
much truth to it. Less frequent practice
means more time will be needed to
develop the desired skills and mindsets.
In how many events or projects can an
individual be directly involved in a period
of time, say a year? Full-time lean
Step on it! Accelerating
your lean transformation
Critical lessons that
ensure a speedy
BY DREW LOCHER
Practitioner-to-Practitioner Learning: The AME International
Conference, which features dozens of practitioner presentations, is built
around the theme of accelerating your lean transformation by learning
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