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Obstacles to Lean

Lean works.

It’s been proven time and time again that its methods and strategies are effective, and that companies that crack the code of Lean improve their operations significantly.

But Lean also flounders in some companies, making it harder than it needs to be and limiting its progress.

My perception is that there are a few common obstacles that prevent Lean from taking root.

  1. Managers don’t seem to share in the burden. When leaders don’t practice 5S, participate in kaizen events, show up for morning stand-up meetings, or spend a lot of time in gemba (the production area), teams get the message that they are have to carry the whole load of implementation alone.
  2. Managers don’t walk the talk. Simply put, things like standard work, KPIs, processes, and daily management are contracts. When demand picks up, leaders can’t just expect more from their teams, especially if they don’t hesitate to move people when productivity improves or there is a lull in orders.
  3. Teams have outspoken critics in their midst. To the chagrin of managers, they are not the most influential person on the team. Every workforce has natural leaders within it. When they are positive about change, the team can rally. When they resist change, the team stands still.
  4. The company doesn’t invest in Lean. Whether time to do projects, equipment and materials to make changes, or training, Lean takes an investment. That investment takes commitment. If a company is just dabbling in Lean and doesn’t go ‘all in’ they will hesitate to apply the resources needed to change.
  5. Lack of a perceived need. When a company is not facing a crisis, it is hard to rally the employees around a cause. Lean takes a lot of energy to adopt. It marks a significant change in the way people think and act, and upsets the status quo. If that balance is not painful to teams, and they think that the shift to Lean operations is simply greed inspired, they will resist.

Please let us know what you think is the most common obstacle that makes Lean stagnate. If you answer ‘Other’, please let us know in the comments section what you think the biggest problem is. We’ll dive into the top issues in future articles.

Which obstacle slows Lean progress the most?

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