Starting a Pilot Project
It’s always difficult to make change, and it’s even more difficult for a Lean transformation since it is a change toward perfection. As the saying goes, “Only a downhill path walks easy”.
To begin with, many senior leaders itch to implement Lean principles to every corner of their companies after realizing the importance of Lean for their business. However, they will soon face all kinds of barriers, and they only have limited resources and energy to deal with these barriers. That’s one of the reasons why so many good initiatives end up with nothing. If the first initiative of a Lean transformation fails, then it becomes even harder the next time since people will be even more resistant to the change. As the saying goes, “Don’t eat the elephant by just one bite, you might need fork and knife”.
The Seven Steps of Plan, Do, Check, Act
To successfully complete a Lean Transformation we recommend the seven steps with PDCA (Plan – Do – Check – Act):
- Setup a Clear Lean Transformation plan and Cross Functional Team – A well-prepared kick-off meeting can help. Encouraging a cross functional team will amplify the results
- Choose a Pilot Area – An area/department needing Lean Transformation. When selecting a pilot area is about reviewing the people and process rather than implementing Lean tools.
- Prepare Your leaders – Leadership buy is a major factor in the success of a Lean Transformation. Leadership needs to understand the benefits of Lean & Operational Excellence
- Provide Just-In-Time Training During Implementation – Focus on upskilling employees and outline the benefits of the transformation helping accelerate the transformation.
- Do Short Interval Checking – Problems in your business shouldn’t be seen as problems but areas to improve on. Correct mistakes the moment they are found. If it doesn’t work out well, ask the 5 WHYs (not 5 WHOs). Think of how the new method will work, not how it won’t.
- Successful Pilot Areas Become Benchmarks – If your pilot area is successful driving a step change in efficiency, it should be reviewed to analyse what worked well and what can be improved.
- After the Success of the Pilot Area – It will be much to start your next area of transformation. Lessons learned from the previous pilot will help provide a benchmark for your next area transformation.
There are common questions that are normally asked when starting the lean transformation such as: “How should I choose my Lean pilot area? Should I start with the worst performing place in my business or from the most important place?”
Clearly, selecting pilot area is more about people, rather than Lean tools. So it’s better to review the people for Lean transformation. Usually there are three kinds of people in an organization. The first kind of people are embracers, who are willing to try new ideas and improve their work; the second kind of people are negative energy generators, who always resist changes, especially when the improvement touches their own interests; the last one are sideliners, who wait and see the trend of the improvement campaign. It changes from organization to organization, but sideliners usually are majority.
In reality, it’s risky to start from the worst performing workplace with the worst culture. The worse the area chosen, the more barriers are to be faced. The reason why it becomes the worst place definitely has something to do with the people in that area. In this case, the resistance during the change will be much stronger. If it Lean fails in the pilot area, then the negative energy generators will certainly stand up and say: “You see, I told you, Lean doesn’t work in our company!” Moreover, once pilot area has failed, it diminishes everyone’s enthusiasm. The sideliners, usually a majority in the organization, might join the negative energy generators and oppose further change.
The success of the pilot area directly affects the success of the whole Lean transformation. There is no choice but to make sure the pilot is very successful. Therefore, it’s strongly recommend that lean transformation journey should starts in an area where culture is positive, even if performance is currently poor. If it starts in a work area where the key process owners are embracers, then your pilot already half way to success. If it overcomes the barriers of leadership and culture, with the correct implementation approach, there’s no reason for the pilot area to fail.
Once Lean is successfully demonstrated in the pilot area, it definitely inspires and encourages everyone, including the people who work in other areas. Several years ago, after a Lean pilot area was successfully built in a Chinese state-owned company, a foreman (previously a negative energy generator) from other area came to the Lean office, banged the table, and complained: “Why did you not implement Lean in our area? You’re just biased!”
Overall, Lean journey is a learning process; it cannot expect it to be successful in just one step. With the demonstration of Lean in pilot area, you can soften the barriers of the whole journey. As people often say, well begun is half done. By applying PDCA cycle in pilot area, and making “change” the only constant in your business, eventually your company will become a Lean enterprise.
If you want to learn more about Lean Supply Chain, please contact our TXM Lean Consultants on 1800 319 552.