Even though this endeavor you have been working on to build a continuous improvement culture is commonly called a “Lean journey”, the name is not entirely accurate. A journey implies an end. It is more like an adventure or an exploration. Regardless of what you call it, though, if you are successful at it you will eventually uncover the great paradox of creating a business management system that drives a continuous improvement culture. By definition, you can never finish building your system. Because it is so focused on continuous improvement, the structure will not just uncover opportunities with your production and support processes. It will identify ways to improve itself.
That is the key characteristic of this phase. The journey becomes self-powered. While there are still lessons and development gates in this phase, there is a noticeable change in the feel of the system. It no longer takes in more energy than it puts off. Going back to the analogy of the investment property from earlier, this phase is the equivalent of when the rent outpaces the costs of ownership. The rental unit becomes profitable. This phase is marked by a significant reduction in the effort it takes to roll out new ideas and a major increase in the system’s payoff.
Once your company reaches this phase, the majority of your organizations will be operating under the business management system, and will have a full kaizen calendar. Employees will be able to transfer throughout the company and immediately understand how the new department is run. The fact that everyone is involved, though, does not mean that you can coast on your previous efforts. It is very important to keep up the momentum.
The bottom line is that this is not exactly a steady state phase, as the improvement line should still be steep. It is more of the saturation phase where everyone is involved in Lean, and the focus is on continually strengthening the culture.
For most companies that don’t abandon their focus on continuous improvement, Phase 6, Keeping Momentum, will be their final destination. That doesn’t mean the program is done when you start the phase, though. There are still a substantial number of sections in this volume that you will have to work through.
The character of this phase, however, is different. In the earlier phases, much of your continuous improvement effort was on learning new concepts and building the essential structure. In this phase, the structure you will need for improvement is, for the most part, complete. Your improvement activity will be, to a much greater extent, spent on actually improving processes. That extends the timeline on working through Phase 6 sections.
While the overall timeline for this phase is listed as ‘indefinite’, we don’t recommend dilly-dallying to get through the sections. Plan on working through Phase 6 sections in 12-18 months.