Change management in a lean tansformation process
A lean transformation process brings about remarkable benefits: shorter time to market, shorter delivery times, shorter production lead times, higher inventory turnover, better product quality. Over time these operational benefits turns into better economic and financial results. But there are other benefits too and perhaps the most important of them is the change in people’s culture.
In particular the pursuit of continuous improvement, one of the key principles of lean thinking, is probably the most important result because it means that people at every level in the company deeply change their mentality and constantly seek perfection.
In order to achieve these results the technical and professional abilities of Consultants and team members are not enough. Other skills are needed too and especially the ability to create a positive team spirit and to motivate all the persons involved in the process of change.
During a lean transformation process it is possible to find not only technical difficulties and problems, but also, and above all, problems of a relational and behavioural nature due to people’s past habits and to their difficulty to accept new challenges and new solutions.
From our experience we have learned that the success of a lean transformation project depends on the following aspects:
1. Project sponsorship: it is absolutely necessary that the project be firmly supported by Top Management. Without a strong sponsorship it is almost impossible to remove all the obstacles and problems and achieve the expected results.
2. Project Leadership: it is absolutely necessary to appoint a project leader who will manage the project and ensure its success. The leader must have the required technical and relational skills and must have the authority and the strength needed to lead other people.
3. Openness to change by production people: resistance to change is one of the most common risks incurred in this kind of projects. Before the simplicity of lean principles and methods the first reaction is often: “It is not applicable to us” or “We are different”, “Our production is more complex”, “We have always done this way”.
4. Involvement of the whole organization: a decision imposed is accepted with more difficulty. That is why the project must be shared with the organization urging everybody to participate in the process of continuous improvement. It is necessary that the project be communicated to the whole company and not only to production people. In this way even outside the production area it is possible to start a process of waste elimination and continuous improvement.
5. Motivation of project team members: in a lean transformation normally a large number of project teams are created. As a consequence it is absolutely necessary to coordinate the various teams and to motivate them to the achievement of their objectives.
6. Visibility and sharing of results: in order to motivate people and show that change is possible and produces benefits, it is essential to make results clearly visible to the whole organization.
7. Process revitalization: Lean must not become a routine and people must not feel as if they have made it and there is nothing better to achieve. Lean is a process that starts one fine day but never ends.
8. Advertising: The transformation must be supported with the right communication means and involving those people who Peter Senge of MIT defines “Internal cables”, positive influencers who encourage confidence and cohesion.
All these aspects are very important in a lean transformation process.
Based on our experience we find it useful to divide the project into a number of successive phases according to the level of lean transformation reached by the company. This makes it possible to move along a gradual path in line with the characteristics of the company and the principles described above.