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Tips for a sustainable, scalable Lean rollout

Lean rollout

April 12, 2018

The rollout phase of Lean deployment, when you’re ramping up your efforts to take the programme wider and deeper within your organisation, is arguably one of the most challenging aspects of Lean to get right. Creating a sustainable, scalable plan which achieves the same level of success as your initial toe-dip into Lean requires a cohesive approach, considerable forethought, dogged determination and ambition.

Here are my top tips for a successful Lean rollout.

1. Preparation

It’s a common mistake to think that once you’ve successfully implemented Lean in one part of your business, the rollout of the programme will be straightforward. But beware: complacency at this stage can quickly derail things. Once you’ve decided to extend your Lean project, you need to enter a detailed planning and preparation phase.

The Lean rollout will affect all parts of your organisation so everyone needs to be ready for the impact, which means laying the groundwork carefully. Remember that Lean isn’t just about technical and process-driven improvements; it’s also about mindset and culture, training and coaching. Your preparation needs to cover both the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ aspects of successful deployment for the initiative to work.

2. Assessment

At this early stage of the process, it’s vital to assess all existing aspects of the business which will be touched by the Lean rollout.  This might include performance management systems, work flows, communication channels, cross-departmental working practices, training provision and supplier relationships, as well as core elements such as management and reporting structures.

Again, look at both the people and process implications as, even if you get the technical systems in place correctly, a negative mindset among employees, lack of communication or poor leadership will quickly have a devastating impact on your success.

3. Personnel

Very often a Lean rollout is led by Lean experts (who may well be external consultants) as businesses believe that they are best-placed to take control. Yes, they are a vital part of the programme as they will have considerable experience of handling similar programme extensions elsewhere, however, your own leadership team must be front and centre, seen to be driving the Lean rollout forward.

If you allow a ‘them and us’ culture to develop (a common problem), failure is a given. It is essential that senior managers are engaged and active in the Lean rollout, championing the initiative and working hand-in-hand with the Lean experts. Further down the organisation you also need to identify key personnel at each level to be Lean standard bearers, providing strong leadership and ensuring that all employees buy into the programme.

Empower line managers, and others working at the heart of the business, to coach and mentor others; bring out problem-solving capabilities in your teams and incentivise and reward staff for their active involvement in the Lean rollout.

4. Structures

In order for employees and departments to work together on the Lean deployment it may be necessary to review company structures to open up lines of communication and encourage cross-departmental working. For instance, in a manufacturing business it may make sense for sales and production teams to work more closely together to cut out waste or reduce customer complaints; departments which have previously ‘competed’ against each other will need to be brought together to work as a team towards common goals.

Developing an effective internal communications programme to ensure good information flow is another important element. Look at how learnings can be shared quickly and ideas circulated, and also open up workable feedback channels. Dialogue at every level of your organisation is crucial, particularly in the early stages of Lean rollout.

Needless to say, this kind of restructuring and recalibrating is particularly important if your Lean rollout covers different sites or territories as siloed working or culture clashes will be a major barrier to success.

5. Training and coaching

It is likely that by scaling up your Lean programme you will be asking your staff to set aside long-held beliefs, change established working practices and embrace new concepts – not something which is quick or easy, but approached correctly will supercharge your Lean project.

Set aside plenty of time and funding for training ahead of your Lean rollout as the value of investment in this area cannot be underestimated. Training needs to be timely and appropriate. It may also be surprising. It’s important to look at the full picture to identify training needs, and perhaps think laterally about what would be the most effective tool to use.

One of my favourite examples of this is a distribution company which employed ‘pickers’ and ‘packers’ in its warehouse. Traditionally these two teams were rivals, with one looking down on the other. When Lean was deployed, the two groups had to be united in a common goal to reduce errors and improve shipment times. The company gave supervisors on-the-job training in interpersonal and influencing skills, including coaching and how to have difficult conversations, before making the technical process changes.

Within six months, productivity and accuracy had improved significantly and customer complaints reduced by a third. Subsequent analysis suggested that about half of the productivity gains were attributable to the ‘softer elements’ and about half to technical changes.

6. Learning from others

As already mentioned, if you’re working with experienced Lean practitioners they will bring with them considerable knowledge from other organisations they have previously helped.  Make sure you make maximum use of this important information source. You can also learn from other companies by seeking out best practice examples in other businesses. Ask if you can visit them to see their successful Lean rollout in action, taking your managers with you.

In my experience, most organisations are happy to share their knowledge and it’s a great way to inspire and give confidence and perspective to your team as they’re in the thick of change.

On this note, if you have any tips to add to these, or would like to share your experiences of successful Lean rollout with other readers, please get in touch. I look forward to your contributions.

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