What Is the Goal of Lean Continuous Improvement?

Written by Jason Haines

“A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course as long as you are always looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” -C.S. Lewis

Over the year’s organizations have tried to implement Lean into their businesses and failed or stopped moving forward with the program. Most of the time you hear the same old excuses, “we tried that here and it just didn’t stick”, or “we were to busy to ever make the change”. There are a multitude of reasons that Lean fails but it mostly comes down to limited knowledge of what Lean really means and how to apply Lean to your company.

The ultimate goal of Lean is respect for the people. All the people, stakeholders, frontline employees, leaders, and customers alike. All these people gain the advantages of Lean and the benefits that it has to offer. This is where people fail when it comes to implementing Lean into their company. Many leaders have used the tools and don’t realize that the tools are there as help. Just like a hammer is to help a carpenter, the Lean toolkit is to help leaders. This help comes in many forms and guides everyone in the facility to a common goal, zero inventory and one-piece flow.

Zero inventory and one-piece flow may never happen for any Lean practitioner because the goal is very difficult to achieve, but all Lean practitioners will strive to get to these two goals. Strive for perfection and you will reach excellence. This gives everyone a goal to reach for and attain; find better ways to do our jobs and make them easier.

Lean has been tried in many places; some have succeeded yet many have failed. But why do the many fail? One of the biggest reasons have been the lack of respect for the people. Sometimes this stems down to the pride of the leader and the pride of the frontline employees. Having worked as both a frontline employee and in leadership, there is a gap there and a lot of times that gap comes from a place of pride. This was a big reason I was driven to Lean and the benefits of Lean thinking; I’ve witnessed how it can benefit all the people within a company and elsewhere.

The leadership holds it pride through the position that they hold. Some leaders feel that if they do not have all the answers then they will lose their job or be ineffective. Which is easy when you are feeling the pressure from your managers who are demanding things from you. The frontline employees hold their pride in the knowledge of their jobs and think leaders don’t understand because they are not on the frontline. They become stubborn and resist the change they feel they are forced to do. So how do we eliminate his pride on both sides?

Lean helps people find humility and start working together for a common goal. With humility people start to see where and how they can help each other. Lean thinking can help companies find ways to make jobs easier, saving time, empowering employees, and giving employees a sense of purpose in their jobs. It gives everyone the hope and security that people want in their jobs.

So, where do we start to eliminate the barriers between the leaders and the frontline employees? One way is to go to the Gemba, or where the work is done. And don’t just stand back and do nothing, go observe, help, ask questions and document. Tell the people why you are there and that they are doing nothing wrong. Allow the employees to have input and show you what they know to gain their trust. Then make the necessary changes to help the employees. Once you make these changes to help the employees you can then start to train them on how to make the changes themselves within their jobs. You will be now training the future and the next leaders of your company. Bringing the frontline employees along to see a better way to do things; come to work to think and not to work.

When frontline employees see and feel that they are important, and part of the improvement of the organization they will start to buy in. As I always say, attitude reflects leadership. People don’t just hear what you say they also see what you do. So as a leader you must, as they say, walk the walk and talk the talk.
So, what is the goal of Lean continuous improvement? The real goal is to empower people to lead themselves and your company by setting standards, or starting points, that allow people to make the necessary changes needed to their jobs. The goal is to free up much needed time for frontline employees and leaders so they can do the jobs that they are being paid to do.

When you implement lean the way that it is supposed to be implemented and change the culture of your company things start to become more efficient. But it all starts with you and putting in the up-front work to train and teach your leaders and frontline employees how to think and make the changes they need to make. It eliminates the bureaucracy of having to get permission, filling out extra paperwork, or doing extra checks that frustrate everyone. By eliminating the wastes, or unnecessary steps, and allowing employees to make a better workplace all while allowing leadership to concentrate on their jobs and making them better.

Ultimately, the goal of lean is to help everyone with their jobs by making them less stressful. While doing this you are giving people the freedom to think and learn from both successes and failures. Eliminating stress that carries over to other parts of your life that are important to you and your employees. Working on the safety and success of the company and providing everyone with security. And at the end of the day allowing everyone to spend time with their families and friends to enjoy life outside of work that is much needed. This is one of the main reasons I started my Lean journey.

Why would you not want to do Lean?

Helping you grow your business through process improvement!!