Dan Burgos

For those of us implementing Lean, we know all too well how hard it is to continuously sustain the improvements we implement throughout an organization. Can I get an amen?

Everyone starts with the best of intentions, especially when collaborating in teams, once the initial implementation is completed everyone goes back to their respective routine. Unfortunately, no one realizes that that is the time when the actual work gets started. Too often we feel proud of ourselves for finishing and lose sight of what it will take to ensure that our brainchild actually sticks.

As I talk to managers throughout companies, this is one of the biggest challenges they face. In light of that I decided to share some tips on how to improve the sustainment of your Lean improvements:

1.Change the process in a way that cannot be reversed or is very hard – This is one of the most radical but yet effective ways to ensure improvements remain. If people don’t have the option to just go back to the old way, they’ll have to learn to accept the changes. This is very applicable in the case of changes to layouts and identifying unused equipment.
2.Make it visual – One of the opportunities I often notice is that when people make improvements they don’t always make visual when the new process is or isn’t being followed. You’ll be surprised how making abnormalities visible drives accountability and adherence. This certainly includes documenting standard work.
3.Involve other peers – When an idea is freshly implemented, it’s a great time to use it as motivation for others. Be sure to involve other peers so they can benefit from your experience. One caveat here is that people may perceive this as boasting, to counter this, there must be collaboration between the team and a legitimate intention in helping others grow.
4.Provide support – As I said earlier, after the initial implementation is when the work starts. All the things you didn’t account for start showing up. I recommend being very visible in the area for at least the first four weeks after implementation. Your role, as leader, is to provide encouragement and coaching. Avoid chastising and confronting people resisting. Listen to their concerns. Talk to everyone in the area. Remove all barriers preventing success.

Please download the e-book The Lean Leader Manual to learn how Lean leaders manage in a Lean environment.

Here is our recent blog on being a supportive leader.

5.Provide feedback – One of the most mentioned concerns I hear from employees is the lack of communication from their managers. In this case, it can manifest itself by not providing feedback (positive or negative). Ensure that you are vocal and visible about sharing the results achieved (think safety, quality, service, cost, etc.) and always express your gratitude to the people that implemented the change and the ones accepting and working with the new process.
6.Share with others – Regardless of the size of your organization, proudly share with others your teams’ accomplishments. Create a report that tells a compelling story, ignite friendly competition with other locations, departments, or team members. You can go as far as creating a best practice database for others to benefit. Bring other visitors, such as customers; create a sense of pride and make sure you share reactions and comments back to the team.

Here is an example of a report from an improvement.

7.Assign one owner – I am big on saying: “If everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible.” I highly recommend that early in the process one owner is identified (preferably an area manager or team member). This provides a development opportunity and a way to drive accountability.
8.Celebrate – Make it a point to document improvements. One of the most motivating things to employees is peer recognition. The more visible you can make their accomplishments and rewards the more motivated they’ll be to ensure success, be spontaneous, and ensure sustainment. Be sure to post before and after pictures so they stand proud and never forget where they were before.
9.Schedule periodic reviews after implementation – You should periodically have a discussion with the area owner, the team, and the employees working to discuss results, open items, team acceptance and even next steps. This should happen where the improvement was implemented.

Here is a recommended review process for implemented improvements

10.Adjust as you go – Don’t be afraid to make small changes. Allow the team to make the changes on their own. If they weren’t allowed to tweak the process, it wouldn’t be called continuous improvement.

Here is a bonus one I thought of as I rounded up the list:

The selection of team members – The success and impact of an improvement is very closely related to the team that participated in the project. Be proactive by ensuring that you are mostly involving people that are embracing and even enthusiastic about new ideas. As they implement ideas they will become advocates for improving and driving peer accountability.

Let me know if you have other tips in the comments section.

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