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9th Edition 

September 2011

In This Issue
Communicating the Lean Way
Sustaining Lean

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Policy Deployment & Lean Implementation Planning


The Lean Way


By Dennis Sowards


Project management in construction is all about communication.  While Lean does not add any unique tools to improve communication, to be successful, Lean depends on people who communicate.  Communication has two critical elements - the message sent and hearing the messages that come back.


The Lean Message We Send


Leaders may define a vision for their company, but only if they effectively communicate that vision, will it happen!  Implementing Lean is the same. It cannot be done as "instant pudding" - mixed, served and eaten all in one sitting.  It is a journey requiring great leadership and lots of communication. It starts with the leaders painting a vision for the Lean journey.


Employees need to "buy in" to change, and implementing Lean is a big change for almost every contractor. To gain employee support, they need to know why implementing Lean is important. A compelling story is needed to explain the reasons for implementing Lean. Jim Womack, co-author of Lean Thinking and a leading Lean expert, says to successfully implement Lean there needs to be a sense of urgency. The compelling story should include this sense of urgency in a way that connects with the employees.


The reason for implementing Lean is not because we need to implement a new idea. Lean is not an end unto itself. The reason for implementing Lean should tie into the company's vision or purpose for existing. Employees will see Lean as the flavor of the month if they don't understand how it fits into the bigger picture for the company.


Research shows that most executives under-communicate important "change" messages to employees by a factor of ten. The message needs to be said often and in many ways. When managers are tired of giving the message, that's when it is beginning to be heard.


A good start at communicating the company's Lean initiative is for the senior manager (CEO/president) to issue a memo or e-mail, and follow it up with an in-person speech to small groups of employees. Employees will listen to the top leader. Having it in writing also helps employees hear (read) the same message.


Next, the executive management team should create a brief "stump speech" explaining why Lean is important to the company, including the need for urgency and how it is being implemented. They should give this speech as often as the opportunity presents itself. The basic points of the speech should be constant, but each executive would be free to tell it in his/her own way. When employees hear the same message from many managers, they begin to sense its importance.


There needs to be communication from the president/CEO announcing the progress of the Lean initiative. The company should do this through all the internal communication methods it typically uses, which may include intranet, toolbox talks, newsletters, e-mail messages, letters to families, paycheck stuffers, etc. Communication is not a "one shoe fits all" approach.  There needs to be a variety of ways the same message is communicated to reach all employees. These messages should include Lean success stories and recognition of individuals who have contributed to this success.


Lean implementation plans and progress should be second, only to safety, on all meeting agendas.  If it is part of the basic company meetings, Lean will be seen as important.  Lean is about visual communication, and graphs and pictures showing progress should be posted on Lean communication boards around the company. 


It is important to communicate your company's commitment to Lean to your customers, partners (other trades), and subcontractors. In general, one does not want to communicate to the external sources until Lean is part of the company's culture. (Don't brag until you are doing it successfully yourself!)


Hearing the Lean Message that Comes Back


Lean is about involving all employees to make continuous improvement. To engage employees in the Lean efforts, management needs to ask for and listen to their ideas for improvement.  Some ideas will seem simple, some outlandish, some will be too expensive and some will be right on target. The first response from the manager regarding the idea is "THANK YOU for sharing your idea." If the idea is implementable and of any value, big or small - do it and do it now. Many employees have previously been shut down by foremen/managers and are not sure their ideas are really valued, so sometimes the employees will 'test the water' by submitting a simple idea. Sometimes a little idea has more value than at first thought. When considering an improvement idea, ask "Why not?" instead of "Why?"


If an idea improves safety, value to the customer, productivity, or reduces costs, time, labor, pain, or hassle without negatively impacting the work somewhere else in the company, then DO IT! If it is not clear how the idea will work or help, it is the role of supervision to help the worker develop and clarify the idea, not challenge them for suggesting it.


If an idea is not doable or cannot be afforded at this time, the manager should not respond negatively right away. He or she should study the idea and its merit then give the employee a brief explanation why the idea cannot be done at this point in time.  Explain why and show respect for the employee. We can all accept "No" when we have an understanding of why.


While not responding immediately with a "No, we can't," the manager should not wait very long (in days) to give the response back to the submitter. Waiting for an answer creates a communication vacuum and human nature will fill the vacuum with the worst possible thoughts as to why there has been no answer given regarding the idea.


Lean is challenging conventional beliefs, including how we communicate to each other and how we do our work. Without challenge there will be no change, and without change there can be no improvement. We don't do Lean to employees. We bring about change with the employees' help. Workers need to understand and buy-in to the changes. Managers need to be sure they hear the Lean ideas from their employees and work to implement all useful ideas. This may mean that supervision and management need to change how they value and communicate with employees. Project management is all about communication.

Sustaining Lean

By Larry Rubrich

American organizations are unable to sustain Lean improvements in order to achieve any real business results. While often there is a spurt in activities and improvements early in the Lean implementation, this slows down and stalls when the organization begins to realize that:

  • Lean is not a "magic pill" or "silver bullet" for the organization's problems
  • A Lean implementation requires difficult and company-wide change, especially for top management.
  • Not everyone thinks Lean applies to them (i.e., sales, accounting, engineering, IT, human resources, and other key areas).
  • Quick bottom line results do not appear, giving rise to questions about Lean payback.
  • Top management support for the change necessary to implement Lean is limited or missing.

This results in 74% of American business reporting "little" or "no progress" with their Lean implementations (as reported by Industry Week Magazine). Toyota purportedly says this number is 70%. For the "little" or "no progress" organizations, Lean is viewed as an "appendage," or an add-on; something we do in addition to our normal busy schedules.

Ultimately, this lack of sustainability is the result of two factors which are missed in the beginning when organizations consider adopting Lean. These factors are:

1) How the organization views Lean's role in running the   company.

2) How to implement Lean completely to insure the desired results.

Sustainability Factor #1 - Our View of Lean

To be successful with Lean, we must view Lean as the "operating system" by which we will run our organization and achieve our desired results. Lean is not just a set of Lean tools. Achieving our "desired results" means we are focused on the three key metrics by which all "for profit" companies are measured: profit, cash flow, and revenue growth.

These business results cannot be achieved without "Lean thinking." Lean thinking is the elimination of waste to achieve our organizational goals, and it must saturate our company-wide discussions and activities. If we view Lean as our operating system, with people at the center of our Continuous Improvement activities, then we must view our Human Resources area and our company culture as important components in the development of this operating system. We will discuss this further in in Factor #2.

Sustainability Factor #2 - How We Implement Lean

Once our understanding of Lean's operating system role in our organization is clear, we can then work on the implementation. Lean consists of four components that all must be implemented simultaneously to be successful. An organization's Leadership Team is responsible for the completeness of all components of the Lean implementation. These components are shown on the chart below.



It is important to note this order of component implementation may seem incorrect to current Lean Practitioners. This results from our tendency to jump to the Lean Tools first. However, the roadmap to using Lean as a system and becoming World Class starts with the end in mind - Lean Planning.

Lean Planning ensures we are not using Lean as an add-on or appendage in our organization, but as the system to accomplish the organization's goals.  Lean Planning makes sure the Lean tools we use and the kaizen events we complete are tied into achieving the organization's goals. To do otherwise is to risk doing "drive by" or "spot" kaizen events which may not help us secure the future as envisioned by the organization's leadership team.


The next component we will discuss is Lean Culture. An important part of the development of Lean Culture includes the Human Resources area integrating Lean into the following traditional H.R. guideline/recommendation areas of:

  • Performance appraisals (which should now include adoption of company values/culture)
  • Candidates for promotion
  • Merit increases
  • Hiring recommendations
  • New employee training

Additionally, H.R. should be responsible for monitoring the completeness of the communication and empowerment plan. Part of the evaluation of the completeness of both of these areas should rely on the use of an outside survey.

Unfortunately, most organizations do not utilize H.R. in the company culture building activity. The company culture is left adrift to develop on its own and Human Resources is relegated to hiring, firing, and keeping us legal. Have you ever seen any Certified Lean Facilitators that have come from H.R.?

Lean Concepts is the understanding that waste in our organizations stops or impedes the flow of information and material. The concept of flow is critical since it, or the lack of it, determines the lead time for our product or services.


Note that Lean Concepts include eliminating waste to improve the flow of information. This includes the "information or knowledge product" that is produced in the transactional areas. The information product includes producing sales orders, drawings, work orders, and other information products required to support the production of the physical product. 


To be successful in Lean, a company must have all four components of Lean in balance. It must achieve the correct balance when it comes to Lean Planning, understanding Lean Concepts, using the correct Lean Tools, and empowering its workforce by creating a Lean Culture. But you must have all four components before you have the makings of a World Class Enterprise.


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This Lean newsletter is the result of the collaboration of three organizations:
Grunau Company
Ted Angelo, Executive Vice President

Quality Support Services, Inc.
Dennis Sowards, President


WCM Associates LLC
Larry Rubrich, President


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