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Prioritizing the Steps in the Lean Journey

    It has become increasingly important to show rapid results along the Lean Journey. While this is critical to maintain support of senior management, it is also important to establish a process by which sustained results can be achieved and that follow-on projects can also be successfully developed. A gentle balance between analysis and action must be obtained. Allowing an entirely bottom-up “power of the people” approach to the lean journey can become unguided and appear to senior management as if it were a ship without a sail, wandering in the harbor. On the other hand, top-down lean journeys often fail to enjoy the support of the rank-and-file members of the production staff.

    In order to overcome the organizational paralysis that comes from over-analyzing lean projects while also achieving faster results utilizing all team members, manufacturers can benefit from faster implementation of solutions that are “good” rather than “perfect” with a commitment to leverage iterative development more frequently in their processes. In no way should the fact-based approach be compromised with shooting-from-the-hip improvement tactics. Instead, teams must shift their focus faster onto accessing feasible solutions and realistic time span for implementing them. This should be done after identifying the severity of the problem and considering the financial and non-financial consequences of imperfect improvement. For problems in which severity of defect is small as well as financial impact, firms can realize more value by implementing a good solution quickly and then iteratively improving it than they can by delaying until the perfect solution is found. Much of this consideration hinges on the time to complete a cycle of PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) on the lean implementation. If a time cycle is less than 18 months, two cycles of PDCA will likely yield better financial results than one implementation of the “perfect” solution (which is often found not to be perfect after full implementation). In only the most sophisticated manufacturing environments are simulation capabilities robust enough to predict outcomes. Instead, full implementation is often required in order to find all secondary effects and true performance improvement measurements.

    In order to prioritize Lean projects, a lean prioritization matrix should be employed. On the horizontal axis, we depict time-to-results while the vertical axis depicts organizational impact of the project. If we split each axis into two sections, so time is classified as “long” and “short” and impact as “high” and “low” – we will have four possible categories for the Lean projects under consideration. We can categorize them as follows:

    -          Quick Win: Short Duration / High Impact

    -          Building Block: Short Duration / Low Impact

    -          Giant Steps: Long Duration / High Impact

    -          Ongoing Improvement: Long Duration / Low Impact

    If the starting focus is on quick wins (short duration, high impact), then organizational support can be gained quickly. It is important to consider if the quick wins will in any way impact long term progress. In other words, will the quick win project give short term gains, but hinder a future project that will have higher impact on the organizational outcome? After the low hanging fruit of quick wins has been captured, the organization should move onto Building Blocks. These short term, low impact projects will continue to advance the Lean journey, but will only generate moderate outcome improvements. These are most important to stop backsliding against the cultural change that is sure to come when the Lean journey is begun. As these Building Blocks are accomplished, the organization should also begin working on Giant Steps (high impact, long duration). Since these will take much organizational discipline and belief in the Lean journey, they are important steps as momentum builds from the Building Blocks. After the major leaps are accomplished with the Giant Steps, ongoing improvement (long duration, low impact) should be pursued. These will allow the organization to solidify the cultural change necessary for the Lean journey and avoid any backslide. Additionally, these projects can continue to advance the journey.  What to do if a backslide occurs? Start again in the Quick Wins category of project and advance accordingly.

    By prioritizing Lean projects, the journey can be productive, profitable, and sustained.