Difficulties with Changing to a Lean Culture: Part IV
Process Improvement – where do we start?
Where will the “human-side” of Lean hit you? Mike Thelen shares experiences with process improvement
in Part IV.
As is the case with any Lean implementation in a Traditional environment, culture (or more specifically
culture change) will be the most difficult obstacle to success. While a company can hire consultants,
develop work teams, and even begin Lean initiatives, if the company only "talks the talk", the initiative
soon becomes just that, talk.
Sustained improvement. Feel like playing jeopardy? What is an extremely difficult part of Lean? By now,
Kaizen has almost become a household word. But what about Kaikaku? Do you know what both words
represent? Kaizen is best known (and most often described) as continuous, incremental improvement.
Kaikaku is perhaps best described as revolutionary improvement. Thus we have two ways to pursue
sustained improvement, evolution and revolution. Kaizen and Kaikaku. But how do we implement or
Once the engine is rolling down the Lean track, how do we keep it moving? We need to change the way
we think about the products we make. Before we can implement Kaizen or Kaikaku (i.e. improve), we
must understand how we make those products.
Process Management – the Traditional approach
In traditional facilities, we track the progress of a product through each department – sales, customer
service, scheduling, manufacturing, assembly, coating, packing, then through shipping to the
transportation company. Each department has specific goals. Each has different objectives day-to-day
than the rest. How do we monitor and judge the success of a product when there are so many and varied
avenues for the product to travel?
Often we fail. Why? A manufacturing cell has two orders due. One is a long run with short setup. The
other, while “hot”, is short run with an expensive setup. An order due later requires the same work.
Often, the first order is run, not due to priority, but due to a desire to perform well (after all, no one likes
the Supervisor bearing down on them).
Lets look at Traditional management through a manufacturing process diagram:
Widget #1 Machine 1
Machine 1 Process 6
Machine 3 Process 4 Process 7
Process 1 Process 5 Machine 1
Machine 1 Machine 3
Machine 1 Finished
Warehouse Process 3 Goods
Process 2 Process 6
Machine 4 Machine 2
Process 1 Process 5
Individual Lots Machine 2 Machine 2
Process 2 Machine 2
Process 3 Process 7
Machine 3 Machine 1
Process 2 Machine 1
Process 2 Machine 2
Inventory (in the form of Lots) is everywhere, with no structure (or only a perceived structure that isn’t
followed). There is no clear path as any product can and will run anywhere dependent on machine
availability at the time of need. People are so busy trying to find, prioritize, and push work through that
they have no opportunity for process evaluation and improvement. This same diagram can just as easily
(and often does) represent a Sales/Customer Service or Engineering department. If we overlay the
Information side of the process, the diagram can become so cluttered that individual opportunities
become impossible to see.
Product Management – an Alternative approach
Pure product management is also difficult. Perhaps it is best described through the eyes of an
Customer Planner Process 1 Process 2 Process 3 Shipping
Here, the Value Stream is managed entirely. There are no “silos” of departments. Each product has
specific personnel throughout the business who are responsible for that product. Structure is very clear
and binary, simple and direct. Support positions often become overstaffed, due to coverage for
absenteeism and knowledge sharing. This can require extensive training too, as maintenance and
engineering must be “experts” on a broad range of machines/components. Theoretically, everyone is
involved heavily in the value stream and teamwork is highly encouraged. Responsibilities are also clearly
defined for all employees in the process.
Hybrid Management – the Toyota approach
Not everyone has worked at Toyota. Through discussions with past employees of TMM and TSSC and
research conducted by many Lean practitioners, it would appear that Toyota takes a “hybrid” approach.
Toyota does have an Engineering department. They do have Manufacturing, Materials, and Support
departments. However, Toyota also has project managers. These individuals are taken from their
current roles (often they are well-proven Engineers) and are given the responsibility of leading projects (to
Toyota, Lexus and the Prius Hybrid were “projects”). These leaders are given little or no authority.
This system allows Toyota to share knowledge across vast numbers of employees. It also maximizes
support staffing. Utilizing value stream management techniques allows for clear and binary paths, while
having departmentalized groups allows for less demand for specific and detailed knowledge of every
component. This system allows”specialists” to be brought in under a project as needed, while still
allowing those specialists to perform necessary job functions in other vital areas of the business.
Management Structures – A visual summary:
Process Mgmt – Vertical Structure Product Mgmt – Horizontal Structure
Raw Mat’l All report Design – Raw – Comp – Assy - Ship
Components to Process Mgrs Includes Sales
Assembly and Plant “Process” Product provides value to the company
Pack/Ship Manager - not the process
- No overlap or concern
- No follow-through from design to delivery
- Department-specific goals/ratings
Toyota Mgmt – Process Management with Product Management
• Chief engineer with little authority, but responsible for each product
• Value-Stream Management
There is no magic pill for Lean initiatives. The Lean process requires time, commitment, and
determination. Companies that cannot envision the long-term commitment to Lean, and only use the
tools for short-term gain, will achieve some limited success. However, without the culture supporting
those tools, the Lean initiative will fail, becoming the "flavor of the week" that everyone knew would not
As Jim Womack once said, “Managers will try anything easy that doesn’t work before they will try anything
hard that does work."
Mike Thelen is Lean Facilitator at Aberdeen, SD based Hub City, Inc., a subsidiary of the Regal-Beloit Corporation,
Beloit, WI. He has led Lean Initiatives in positions from Front-Line Supervisor to System Facilitator in various
corporations since 2001. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.