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by Steve Laton


If you look up the word “transformation” in the dictionary, one of the definitions is: “A marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better.” Usually for the better is interesting; as we work hard with our clients to create positive change for the better, this definition seems to fit.

Another word that relates to change is “metamorphosis,” which means “a marked change in appearance, character, condition, or function.” This one fits, too.

When we begin transformation projects with our clients, we have every intention of creating positive change in the client’s process system. This applies to industries manufacturing products, service industries, healthcare facilities, offices, supply chains, and environmental efforts.

The transformation is aimed largely at the culture of an organization—the soft side as well as the hard side of the systems that drive the organization. We have discussed before that over 80 percent of the journey is the culture, and not the tools we use. It is an obvious fact that for a transformation to be successful, the entire organization has to embrace the concepts and basic principles that are necessary for sustained positive change, and come to grips with a core concept that embraces and promotes change.

So, a transformation project takes time. It can never be a three- to five-day project with a drive-by solution that ultimately has little chance for a long-term sustained success (much less a “change in appearance, character, condition, or function”).

When a company decides they want to pursue a Lean transformation, it is starting a process that will take months and possibly years to mature. In addition, it is moving in a direction that requires not only a Lean production system, but more importantly a Lean management system that directs, supports and manages the transformation.

Lean talks about how “standard work” is key to effective and positive change and Lean progress within an organization. Well, it is equally necessary that managers have standard work in their daily activities, to support the Lean transformation. In fact, without the presence of standard work for managers, the transformation will usually fall short. The managers must be part of the process, and are key in setting priorities and maintaining accountability and discipline throughout the transformation. Without this “hand on the wheel,”, the boat cannot stay on course and the effort for transformation will not be successful. (“Management” in this case means all the management team: team leaders, supervisors, value stream managers, department heads, plant managers, VP’s, President, and CEO. All of these folks have different time demands, but all of them have to have part of their day, everyday, aimed at the transformation through their standard work.)

Lean implementations require hard work, but true Lean transformations require even harder work that is inclusive of everyone on the team.