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Saturday, March 8, 2014

How long does is take to transform to a lean enterprise?

Lean nation,

I hope everyone is doing well with the un-seasonally cold weather over the past 10 weeks. While we all like to complain about the cold and snow/ice,  the change in climate does two important things for us; 1) it kills bad bugs , and 2) the melt off fills the lakes and streams.  So let's count our blessings and look forward to a nice spring and summer season.

One of the questions I frequently get from my clients is how long does it take to transform?  This is a great question, but one very difficult to answer.  Third parties that offer improvement and transformation services will answer 3-5 years.  No corporation that ever actually "transformed" has completed the journey in 3-5 years. 

The true test of transformation has few acid tests:

1) Can the organization weather the change of their change agent?  I have seen many companies do great things for 3 years.  When the CEO, or the GM leaves, the improvement leaves with them.  This is the most common cause of lack of sustainability.  Is your improvement effort focusing on developing all of the members of the senior team to weather a change in leadership?  Or is one person driving the bus.  I have seen an organization do 10 years of great improvement work only to have a new CEO wipe out the entire improvement department within 3 months of their arrival.

2) Another red flag as that lean is an "operations" thing.  improvement never moves beyond the operational area in to admin, finance, HR, new product development, maintenance , supply chain, etc.  If this is the case, you are are risk of not transforming.  The organization is too shallow at the leadership levels to recognize the benefits of transformation for the entire enterprise and even the extended enterprise. 

3) Another common failure is lack of a long term view.  Organizations set goals of transforming every thing and everyone  in 3 years.  100% of all people trained! World calls status in 3 years.   While this might impress wall street or the board, this is not a path of transformation.  True transformational success requires a focused approach to improvement aligned to corporate strategy. The pace should be calculated and based on sustaining improvement and changing culture, not number of people trained, or number of projects completed.  Truly transformational efforts  want lasting outcomes ( results ) and culture change, not effort. This is what publicly traded companies have a difficult time transforming.  the measuring stick is making the next quarter's guidance , not really sustaining improvement in performance and culture. 

4) An additional factor is is self reflection and engagement.  A Toyota executive once commented PDCA sound simpler right?  10 years for Plan, 10 years for Do, 10 years for check, and 10 years for Adjust.  40 years to learn PDCA?  If we do some self reflection, we all have some work to do. 

So now that  have covered why organizations don't transform, what is the number of years required to transform an organization?   I'm not sure there is a magic number, but if I have to be pinned down to a single number I would estimate 2 decades.  20 years! Most organizations jump from shiny object to shiny object. Quality circles, TQM, empowerment, etc.  This behavior fails to transform an organization.  Learning can't occur when the methodology and language changes every 5 years. 

You do not, however, need have to wait 20 years for results.  Improvement, done properly, should immediately deliver results to your customer, your organization and to the staff.   

Lean Blessings:


Ron Bercaw
President and Sensei
Breakthrough Horizons LTD
Shingo Award winning author 


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