Once upon a time, a Japanese car manufacturer was demonstrating an authentic capacity to continuously improve itself and to win market share. American researchers puzzled by its ongoing successes started a quest to understand the foundations of this phenomenal success. Lean was born and kept growing around the world spearheaded by Lean Enterprise Institute. LEI has its thinkers, researchers, consultants, and is a well-known institution which is respected and listened to. It is very knowledgeable in Lean research and teaching. According to LEI, the Japanese car manufacturer was defining its approach in one sentence:
Good Thinking, Good Products
Consulting companies found inspiration in Lean. By mixing it together with Six Sigma, they were able to build a huge transformation toolkit, which was offered to anyone who could pay. They sold efficiency dreams at a high cost, not only financial one, but also, bringing a common negative experience around Lean if we follow the articles flourishing on the internet – especially in France. That is the risk of favoring toolkit thinking to a deeper understanding of the culture, the intention, and the foundations.
Lean Six Sigma is dead
These negative stories were echoed by social media and made an impact. Today, we can admit that associating your brand with Lean is not a sign of leadership or of being at the edge of something anymore. Even worse, it may create a negative connotation to the brand itself! It is very sad to see all the brilliant work that has been done by Lean researchers as they struggled to understand the thinking behind a successful enterprise. It is also sad for those consultants who, despite the fashionable focus on toolboxes, were able to maintain their focus on the culture, the intention, the foundations and the spirit of « Good Thinking, Good Products ».
Why 98% of Lean transformation efforts fail?
There is no need for me to rewrite the brilliant work of Jeffrey Liker and Mike Rother from LEI. Their paper makes it clear that Lean, which is defined as the way in which this car manufacturer continuously improve itself, is not only a toolkit, but also a whole management culture.
Three ways to increase the 2% of successes
- Focus on the culture of continuous improvement. In my view, It’s the way taken by Mike Rother, and also by David J. Anderson‘s Kanban Method
- Focus cost of delay by creating an economic framework adapted to your context. Experts will recognize Don Reinertsen‘s work
- Focus on the respect-for-people dimension of change. That is what has emerged under the term Strength-Based Lean Six Sigma, which revisits Lean methods and tools through the lens of Strength-Based approaches to change (Appreciative Inquiry, Solution Focus, etc.)
Or any combinaison of them! Kanban is an approach I appreciate and use when the context is appropriate. I am also inspired by Don Reinertsen’s work, make an effort to learn and use it, as well as to make it better-known in France. Finally, I have recently been trained in Appreciative Inquiry, and I find David Shaked‘s work to combine strength-based thinking with Lean Six Sigma brilliant.
Long live the Strength-Based Lean Six Sigma!
I’m lucky to know David. Following on my continued efforts to open new opportunities for organizations to reinvent themselves and to identify their unique path to the future, we propose to organize a workshop in Paris to discover and learn more about his work, which is described in his book. Through this article, I am seeking feedback from you, the reader, on your interest in this topic. So if you have read until now, please take 10 sec to fill this poll. Note SBLSS = Strength-Based Lean Six Sigma.
Your answer does not commit you at this stage. It just enables me to gauge the appetite for discovering innovative ways of transformation. You won’t receive any further emails from me, so if you want to know more stay tuned: Twitter, LinkedIn or this blog ;o)
See also SBLSS