Creating a Lean Culture: ‘How and why’ is more powerful than ‘what’

When looking to establish a lean culture, we often find that Lean Practitioners will describe lean tools in the context of ‘what’ – in other words something that’s been done.

On first reading, this focus looks and sounds right. However, experience teaches us that lean processes which focus purely on rapid Kaizen implementation, whilst yielding dramatic initial improvements, typically tend to fall down later on.

To illustrate what we mean, take the example of a new cell implementation that flows from a TAKT with minimum process waste and which results in a neat and tidy working area. This project delivered some impressive initial results:

  • Productivity gains of 50%
  • 75% inventory reduction

However, when we fast-forward 12 months what do we find has happened to our Lean Project?

  1. Processes not being fully adhered to.
  2. Inventory build-up.
  3. 5S starting to fray around the edges.

Focus on Tools and People

New physical tools are great at first, all shiny and exciting. However, if not used and maintained properly in line with manufacturers’ recommendations we all know they gradually become less effective – in fact they start to reflect the same ‘shabbiness’ of our above-mentioned unmaintained Lean Project.

So, focusing purely on tools or the ‘what’ is not enough. The ‘what’ approach does not address the wider goal of creating that lean culture if it’s not partnered with ‘how’ and ‘why’ principles.

So to ensure we embed the right culture within our company ethos we need to understand the ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘what’ of any projects or processes we introduce – in fact it could be argued that using and implementing Lean tools (the ‘what’) results in just 20% or so of Lean actually being addressed – normally the low hanging fruit – whereas the remaining 80% emanates from the ‘how’ and ‘why’.

Changing an existing culture – attitudes, habits, procedures and beliefs requires a lot of effort and time. To effectively create that Lean Culture means getting everyone to:

  • See, understand and embrace Lean
  • See waste and take action to remove it
  • Question everything – as individuals, teams and as an organisation
  • Act only on facts and data, not opinion or hearsay
  • Work together not in (individual or team) isolation

Embedding Lean Culture is more than just ‘what’ we do

So when we examine the nature of our daily activities and how we align these with our values, corporate goals and relevant KPI, how do we ensure that as a business we are pursuing continuous improvement?


Training and Development

It is through effective Training & Development that we keep everyone moving forward – focused on the ‘why and how’ of Lean – e.g. eliminating waste, embracing innovation. It is critical that everyone understands why this matters and of course responsibility for driving a consistent message and the sustainability of a Lean culture starts with Managers and Team Leaders.

But how do you embed and sustain ‘Lean’ effectively when only a handful of people in your business are lean aware?

The short answer is that you don’t.

Culture is by definition “the social behaviour and norms found in human societies or groups” and thus to change, embed and sustain a Lean culture within any business requires that everyone understands, lives and breathes Lean.

Consequently, effective Lean transformations must start by identifying Lean leaders and experts who can positively drive/communicate Lean principles and then empowering those leaders to implement rapid changes. If progressively we then give everyone within our organisation the Lean methodology, understanding and tools (for example to identify and eliminate underlying causes of waste, effectively problem solve etc.) they need, we can embed and sustain something ‘new’ – a true Lean culture.

Such change can only happen effectively if the ‘new’ is reinforced (new thinking, working processes, systems etc.) with the ‘how’ and ‘why’ by addressing attitudes, values and mind-sets. This is the only way to truly change, embed and sustain.

Cidori Bespoke Apprenticeship Model

 For these reasons, Cidori has developed an effective approach to apprenticeship delivery, at the heart of which is a clear mission to assist businesses embed a sustainable Lean culture throughout their organization.

How does it work?

By using project-led training in Lean principles, Cidori will design a bespoke programme to fit your business and deliver to the whole workforce:

  • We start at operative level – where the “why do I have to do it this way?” question is often asked. Where great ideas for change constantly surface and spark but ultimately extinguish rapidly, leading to zero benefits for your organisation.
  • By giving operatives knowledge of basic lean principles and equipping them with tools to effectively communicate and innovate ideas with Team Leaders/Managers in quantifiable formats. These are the ideas that materialise into realistic cost saving projects;
  • In this way the ‘how’ develops naturally alongside the ‘what’ and the ‘why’.
  • Whilst training at all levels of your organisation, we will discuss ways and benefits of engaging and working as teams to promote the new culture.

Our project-led training is delivered to planned, mixed groups that combine raw talent with experienced personnel and colleagues from non-production departments. This approach encourages and cross-fertilises the ‘why’ & ‘how’ approach within your business, thus disseminating benefits more widely.

Why not check out the experiences of some of our clients here – these illustrate the many positive impacts on productivity, cost saving and other benefits from project led training that we have implemented.

We are confident that the Cidori Bespoke Apprenticeship model will not only provide a rich source of guidance in project-led Lean, Management and other apprenticeship programs, but will help you utilise your levy and access other funding that ensures you get the training you want for your whole workforce.

For a no obligation conversation please contact our Levy Expert:

Paul Woolley
07412 864217

Useful links

Gateshead College