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Why do so many lean manufacturing initiatives fail?

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Ian Beckett

Chief Executive Officer, Eirtight Technology Ltd.

All businesses evolve to become low-cost manufacturing or service providers over time. Decisions on which efficiency strategies to adopt are often inhibited by past failures or suppliers who simply do not understand what you are trying to achieve.


Lean manufacturing challenge

If you Google “Lean manufacturing failure rate” the results show that 85% of initiatives are deemed to be failures – because they did not produce the desired outcomes for the investment. The challenge for managers is to understand how to appropriately use business transformation tools, rather than the simple application of rules and processes.

An effective strategy is to start with desired outcomes, normally your current pain points, and tactically apply business solutions that reduce costs and enhance productivity.

By engaging customer facing employees in the decision and execution process your team can share in your objectives rather than see your “productivity and profitability” initiative as a path to staff reduction.

A simple business transformation strategy that works

To drive strategic change in your business, you need to create capacity so your team members (who are fully loaded because, of course, there are never surplus staff!) can accommodate – and welcome – the additional work, rather than see it as extra work merely for some new, management fantasy.

Using a ‘stop, start, continue’ tool to create capacity and reinforce change with positive feedback works in businesses that may have limited formal processes. With this model, every step can be seen by the participants as positive and designed to make their jobs easier.

STOP: Initially, you must define the status of the workflow, ‘as it currently stands; the ‘As Is’ stage. Decide this  status with management and employees and build the next stage – the ‘To Be’ – stage with management. The ‘To Be’ stage defines the desired objectives, and must be rolled out to employees. Strangely, this obvious plan is rarely made explicit to all parties.

This enables your team to ‘Stop’ doing things that are not aligned with objectives and ‘Start’ implementing the desired change

START: Create capacity to change by cherry picking an easily-accessible intervention that gives employees capacity to participate in change. Employees are often at maximum capacity, so finding this space for change can be a challenge but it is very important to find this opening,

CONTINUE: Confidence building is supported by simultaneously identifying what employees do right and supporting them to ‘Continue’ doing same. This works most effectively when all parties communicate and share plans with stakeholders.

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