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3 min read

Manage & Sustain Lean Transformation

by Bruce Hamilton, President of GBMP, co-author of the "E2 Continuous Improvement System" & author of the blog "OldLeanDude". 
But it doesn't have it be, especially if you can establish an "everybody, everyday" (e2) perspective for Continuous Improvement success.

An e2 perspective for Lean is built on a foundation of several basic concepts that must be understood by everyone – management and employees – if the system is to work at all. But in today’s macho-technical business world, conceptual thinking is typically considered “fluff.” Many businesses prefer to skip directly to the tools, the ‘know-how’ of Lean, without first understanding the “know-why.” Why not just implement the tools like most companies do? Why is the big picture so important?

Well, let's see. Have you ever been asked to accept a big change to your life without being given an explanation of why the change is important? What was the result? That kind of process makes us objects of change rather than participants and is a sure recipe for failure. Any attempt to implement the tools of the Toyota Production System without first understanding the bigger picture will inevitably result at best in disappointing results and alienated employees.

Now, indulge me if you would and STOP READING. Go back and read the previous paragraph again before continuing.

Thanks for doing that. The reason I asked you to is because I believe there is no single message in any Lean training approach that is more critical to your success. In fact, without understanding the foundations of Lean first, none of the rest of it will make any sense to you. But if you take the time to understand the foundations of Lean, everything will eventually make sense.

Now I say “eventually” because we also must understand that learning is not instantaneous, and not easy. Many of the foundational concepts of Lean may oppose your current thinking. I call this “unlearning” and it can be especially challenging because past biases will taint perceptions.

But Lean is a thinking people system, one that constantly challenges the current situation (status quo). You’ll have to think hard to get beyond status quo thinking. But the result of thinking critically will be a new perspective and direction for your organization: True North, or “the ideal production system”, as it is described by Toyota.  

So, the first objective when establishing an e2 perspective is being able “to see” True North and to personally take some first steps in that direction. As a starting point, think of True North as a spot on the horizon that you and your company will be heading towards, one that will bring you the full benefits of Lean.  

Astonishingly, many companies fail to achieve that benefit simply because they chose the wrong direction right at the start, most often the same direction they were already on. However, as you learn and understand and convey the foundations, that point on the horizon will become clearer. Be patient and keep your mind open.

Here’s an image you can conjure which might help you visualize the approach.

If you’ve ever watched a six-year-old learn to play a sport, then you may in fact intuitively already understand. In soccer, for example, first there are skills to be practiced and learned – things like dribbling and passing. Mistakes are not only inevitable but are the means to learning. A good coach will understand that not everyone learns at the same rate and will guide players to develop individually according to the way they learn.

Next, there is teamwork, which enables each player to use his or her skills to collaborate with other players. What begins as a herd of kids chasing a soccer ball up and down the field will, with appropriate coaching and practice, gradually develops into a game of position and passing. A coach’s greatest skill is in molding the strengths of individuals into a cohesive unit. Individual skills are combined into a practiced playbook, a tactical plan, resulting in team performance that seems to be greater than the sum of its parts.

During the process, some players will emerge as leaders, others as good individual contributors to the team. Which is most important to the game - skills, teamwork, tactics, leadership, or individual contributions? Clearly, all are important, and also inter-related. A good team has a good system that promotes all of these aspects. A good coach will both inform and inspire his team, nurturing these aspects. And when it’s game time, the teams that win are ones who have practiced the basics, learned to play well as a team, developed the abilities of every player to his or her fullest potential and have acquired an enthusiasm and excitement for the game that gives them the final competitive edge.

​So it is with an “everybody, everyday” approach to Lean, but the coaches are managers and the employees the team. And just as individual positions like goalkeeper or center have defined responsibilities, so too there are defined functions of each department engaging in Lean.
Each employee practices specific skills that help him or her to improve their work by eliminating problems and by using creativity to find better ways to work. There may be problems every day, but everyone is a problem-solver, equipped with both skills and enthusiasm to identify problems and turn them into gold nuggets.

With every work cycle there is practice and encouragement to improve, which is seen as normal behavior by everyone. Managers and supervisors support these activities and “coach” every employee to enable them to develop to their fullest capabilities. And top management provides tactical and strategic direction, a playbook so to speak to support the best alignment of their team with key priorities. Player for player and coach for coach, there is great similarity between the six-year-old soccer team and a business run as an “everybody, everyday continuous improvement system.”

Did you like this article? Read more about the “e2 Continuous Improvement System” hereand please share your comments. I love to read them. – Bruce

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