ETAC Solutions Team Meeting

How Can I Sustain My Lean Programme?

Recently, I heard that companies I knew had implemented a strong lean programme.  But they were now struggling to maintain some of the basic disciplines.

Moreover, I was surprised to hear about how some businesses were moving on from Lean to Innovation or Agile. It’s almost as though they had ticked a box and they had finished with Lean. Now, it was time to move on.

The Leadership Team

Certainly, the Leadership team in any business establish the environment for continuous Lean thinking.  But if they move on to the next goal, then that environment may move on too.

In other words, Lean does not succeed or fail on its own merits. It is an integral part of how management run the business.  Above all, it must align itself to the business goals.  Furthermore, the employees must deliver Lean through continuous process improvements.

How Can I Sustain My Lean Programme?

Jeffrey Liker provides an insight in his opening chapter of  “The Toyota Way”

Why Companies Often Think They Are Lean—But Aren’t

When I first began learning about TPS, I was enamoured of the power of one-piece flow. The more I learned about the benefits of flowing and pulling parts as they were needed, rather than pushing and creating inventory, the more I wanted to experience the transformation of mass production processes into lean processes first hand. I learned that all the supporting tools of lean such as quick equipment changeovers, standardised work, pull systems, and error proofing, were all essential to creating flow.

But along the way, experienced leaders within Toyota kept telling me that these tools and techniques were not the key to TPS. Rather the power behind TPS is a company’s management commitment to continuously invest in its people and promote a culture of continuous improvement.

I nodded like I knew what they were talking about and continued to study how to calculate kanban quantities and set up one-piece flow cells.

After studying Toyota for almost 20 years and observing the struggles companies have had applying lean manufacturing, what these Toyota teachers (called sensei) told me is finally sinking in.

At ETAC, we have supported many Lean programmes. As in many cases, the best learning usually comes from the ones that didn’t go as well as expected. When we examine why this happened, our conclusion was that we didn’t spend enough time engaging with the leadership team.  In addition, we didn’t define their role in the Lean improvement.

Like Jeffrey Liker, many business owners want to see the implementation of the Lean Tools5s has an immediate impact & the benefit of SMED is easy to measure. But once the company has completed their lean programme and the box is ticked, why isn’t everyone just getting on with it and doing more?


To sum up, the organisation must create the environment for Lean. 

The company must develop measures relevant to each employee’s working role.  Therefore, the business needs to communicate the performance against these measures to all of their people.  They need commitment to support their people to achieve the required standards.  Finally, they must provide an environment for them so that they can continuously improve their own performance.

You may be interested in Lean Leadership support in your business and putting these ideas into practice?

Click here to contact the team at ETAC or enquire about our Lean Leadership programme.

We hope you enjoyed reading about how to sustain a lean programme.  You may also be interested in reading about our insights on our Lean Approach to Business Improvement and our LeanTeams Virtual Training Solutions.  All our blogs are available to read here.  Please connect with us on Linkedin and Twitter.