The Missing Link of Lean Success

Anyone who has been involved with Lean for any period of time has probably concluded three things:

  1. Once demonstrated, lean concepts are relatively easy to understand.
  2. With support, lean concepts and tools are relatively easy to apply.
  3. No matter what, lean concepts and tools are difficult to sustain and expand once implemented.

Often, lean success is defined as the existence of a “kaizen culture” in which lean tools are effectively applied, by enthusiastic employees, to eliminate waste every day.  If this is true, then many organizations should probably quit their lean programs now, as they will never succeed by this definition.

There is no roadmap for achieving a kaizen culture, and left to their own devices, most organizations will run out of time and patience before they discover the path.  This article explains a process used to develop a kaizen culture and with it, achieve lean success.

Kaizen culture is characterized by:

  • Extensive knowledge of, and success with, the tools of lean manufacturing;
  • Ability to apply the tools every day to improve operational performance without overt management direction; and,
  • Knowledge of where to apply the tools, or a process for continuously refocusing on problems and opportunities.

This level of lean success requires incredible focus and discipline over an extended period of time (50 years for Toyota), extraordinary management leadership, vision and commitment, and enlightened corporate leadership.  Most companies that have succeeded with lean have done so because a small group of people have driven it relentlessly, achieving gains by the application of lean tools and then, transforming the culture to embrace the tools and build the discipline to ensure continued adherence to lean concepts.

Lean Daily Management System is vital for Lean success and Kaizen culture

Unfortunately, most organizations lack the charismatic, committed leader capable of driving such a change by force of personality alone.  Such organizations need a more structured process for achieving the discipline and focus necessary for lean success.  This process is the Lean Daily Management System®, or LDMS®.  While LDMS implementation will not guarantee lean success, it will, if properly applied, gradually build the foundation skills necessary for success.

LDMS is focused on intact work groups of five to nine people.  It provides an integrated set of planning, measurement and problem-solving tools to help the work group:

  • Focus on daily performance measurement and improvement
  • Improve effectiveness of supervisory communication
  • Solicit and evaluate employee improvement ideas
  • Assess lean status and define improvement objectives

The LDMS is a process that, if diligently followed, will build the new “habits” necessary to develop a kaizen culture.  LDMS has five key elements:

  1. Primary Visual Display (PVD) serves as a central communication point for a work group. The work group members themselves maintain performance metrics, schedules, improvement actions, cross-shift management issues and other useful group information on the PVD.
  2. Shift Start Up Meetings, of ten minutes in length, are held daily in front of the PVD and serve as a forum in which to recap prior day’s performance, communicate critical information for today, reinforce safety and other work group practices, solicit solutions to problems, etc.
  3. Work Group Metrics and Short Interval Coaching, such as hour-by-hour charts, display expectations, actual performance and problems or issues through the shift. Performance metrics are essential to instill the discipline necessary for standard work and other lean practices to be sustained.
  4. Kaizen Action Sheet (KAS) System is a tool to systematically collecting and evaluating employee improvement suggestions. Most employees are full of ideas and are willing to share them, but lack a process to capture the ideas, evaluate them and ultimately implement them for operational improvement.
  5. Long-term Improvement Planning Tools, such as the KG 20 Keys® assessment, help facilitate improvement planning and goal setting. While day-to-day problem solving is important, it is also critical for work groups to focus on longer-term improvement needs and maintain a plan for achieving improvement goals.

The LDMS seeks to build new lean habits in the work area.  And, like any new habit-building program, the LDMS must be practiced diligently for a period of time, (90 days seems to be the minimum), until the new processes gradually become “business as usual.”  Day-to-day, hands-on coaching of work groups and team leaders is essential to ensure LDMS acceptance.  Initially this is accomplished through process compliance, but ultimately through knowledgeable use of the tools.

LDMS implementation is a slow process, but one that must be undertaken to ensure that lean implementation does not turn into yet another “here today, gone tomorrow” improvement program.  LDMS for a work group will typically be implemented over a four to five-week period, introducing one element each week and extensively coaching the element’s use after introduction.  Once the elements are fully implemented, it can take another six to eight weeks for a team to “get it” and begin to work effectively on their own.  During introduction and on a regular basis thereafter, LDMS process and performance must be assessed to ensure success.  Diligently following the process is the key to LDMS success, which in turn, is the key to establishing the kaizen culture so essential to lean.

The LDMS is focused on improving micro-process (work group) performance in a lean system.  It is part of a broad-based lean deployment, not a substitute for value stream mapping, kaizen events and other methods to identify and implement lean improvements.  Think of LDMS as the glue that will hold lean improvements in place and gradually broaden the application of lean tools within your organization.

Work group LDMS must be linked to higher-level operational management activities within an organization to ensure seamless communication of expectations, feedback on results and review of improvement ideas.  As teams and organizations gain experience with LDMS, work groups become more empowered and the freedom to act increases dramatically.  LDMS will help bind lean changes to the process and build lean thinking into the culture at the lowest manageable level of the organization—the intact work group. The LDMS enables average groups of employees to form into teams and begin to self manage.  LDMS is the missing link of lean success for many organizations.

This article was written by William Roper in 2001 and published on the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) website – it has since been hidden behind their firewall. Over the years, the article has been cited many times as people try to explain what makes Lean work or fail inside the organization. Bill is an authority on Lean and all things related to operational improvement. I have learned much from him. Early on, he taught me and many others about how to conduct the Kaizen Event – before it was even slightly in vogue and since then, about the absolute importance of leadership and employee engagement. It seems fitting to re-visit this article now 20 years on, to see how much or how little, things have changed. ~ Jerry Timpson, Kaufman Global

Lean Daily Management System®, LDMS® and 20 Keys® are all registered trademarks of Kaufman Global.

Bill Roper is a Lean and operational excellence expert. You can find him here on LinkedIn: