I have seen numerous times where Dr. Jeffrey Liker prominent author of the Toyota Way Series has claimed that less than 1% of companies are successful with Lean. I am not sure what criteria he bases this number on exactly but if he is even close why are we doing it? If you have studied Lean and any of Dr. Deming’s material, it would say it’s the process not the people. Therefore, would we not have to say this failure is the process not the organization? So, if Lean has this high of failure rate why are we doing it?
When I ask this question of many “Lean” people they have a tendency to answer the question based on why companies are not successful. I never intended to ask this question to beat up on the companies trying to implement Lean. They have a tough enough job. Many will point to leadership saying that they are at fault. Truth be known, they are responsible. That is why we call them leaders. But if I am a leader and something is only having a 1% success rate, why am I going to go down that path? Why would I contemplate Lean?
The fact is that Lean, Six Sigma, TQM and many methodologies work. The fact is most weight-loss programs work. The problem is most people; most organizations don’t master them to make them successful. As Dan Pink said, “Mastery is hard.” Hence, less than 1% of companies are successful with Lean or even something as simple as a weight loss program. You can find plenty of advice; you can read books, go to seminars and enroll in programs. I am not against professional advice mind you; they have experience and knowledge that you may not have in your organization. But this is where your plan may break down. Look at all your diet plans for example, why do they stop working? It’s you, not the plan.
What does work is the same thing for both people and organizations. It is the scientific process of trial and error. You don’t get it right at first, you have to break habits, personal habits as an individual and company cultures as an organization. Successful companies do it a little bit at a time. In Lean, we call this scientific method PDCA. We plan, do it, check the results and adjust. It is a purposeful experimentation.
To me, this is the excitement of Lean, is this empowering aspect that is not easy. You teach people, rather than solve people’s problems for them. And in doing so, they learn how to make better decisions which leads to better performance.
Dr. Michael Balle stated in an interview with me, “Lean gives you an ideal; it’s a commitment to an ideal.” More importantly, you must understand your own organization, the culture that exist and the culture that your customers expect and are willing to derive value from. You have to make the process your own. You have to rid yourself of Lean or other business processes. Dr. Liker’s statement is exactly correct because successful companies that started down a Lean path are not Lean anymore, only the unsuccessful ones are. If you are successful at implementing Lean, it is simply not Lean. It’s yours.