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Lean Project Implementation Is Not Adoption

by Hal on June 1, 2009

in Last Planner, construction, design, kaizen, lean

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I was speaking today with the COO of a large construction firm that has been on a journey to deliver their projects on a lean basis for the last 8 years. We were speaking about the usual comments senior people make about lean. He said, "Don't paper the projects; you need to change your practices to deliver a lean project." In other words, going through the motions won't make the project lean. But what will make it lean?

You need to change your practices to deliver a lean project.Doing a project lean is not an implementation issue. Rather, it is about adopting a different set of behaviors. Behaviors are an individual issue. Each person has to decide that they will approach their work differently. This is the bad news. It's also the good news. Why? There's really nothing to implement. My colleagues (and clients) might disagree. So be it. The fundamental issue is for people to approach their work with a new attitude and a new commitment.

The new attitude is to make today better than yesterday. You've probably heard something like that before. I was in a plant where I saw a sign that read, "Make tomorrow better than today." That is not what is really going on at lean firms. We can't wait for tomorrow. We only know that we have today. Toyota calls it a no-satisfaction attitude. It's the complete opposite of complacency.

Only unwavering leadership will set the stage for adoption.The new commitment is to learn in-the-moment from each anomaly, variance and breakdown. I don't mean doing a lessons-learned at the end of the project. That's a waste. Rather, each little difference from expectations is exactly that opportunity to learn what we need to learn. A few years ago I had the opportunity to speak with Gary Convis, who was the Toyota North American President of Manufacturing. He was asked about the importance of advanced problem-solving approaches. In short, he answered, "The vast majority of improvements (Toyota) makes — over 80% — start and finish with a good 5-why." He went on to explain it is the habit at Toyota to notice small variances, to stop and understand why they occured, and to do something in that moment to prevent recurrence (install countermeasures).

"Lean this" and "lean that" are not issues of implementation. Last Planner® will not make you lean. Nor will kanban, kaizen events, single-piece flow nor 5S. Even doing all of them on your project won't make you lean. Lean — true lean — happens in the minds and actions of each person in the organization. To pull that off takes the determined unwavering examples of leaders. Only that leadership will set the stage for adoption.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Project management June 2, 2009 at 6:51 am

Nice Article

2 Matthew E. May June 3, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Bravo, Hal…This is the true spirit of kaizen. Too many think you can “do lean.” Constantly hearing about “speeding up ‘the do.’”Inevitably, their efforts are at best programmatic. Eventually, they abondon those efforts, because they haven’t captured the essence, the mindset, the spirit.

3 Pradeep Bhanot June 8, 2009 at 11:14 am

Hal, you are spot on.

One can sum up this thinking with a minor rephrasing of an old Elvis song from the movie Blue Hawaii:
I am more lean today,
More lean than yesterday,
But, I am less lean today,
Less, than I will be tomorrow.

Seriously, I wrote a couple of blogs over the last month on the relationship of PPM to Lean IT, with a focus on tuning processes and reducing time on wasted projects at: http://community.ca.com/blogs/ppm/

4 John Leeper June 9, 2009 at 10:25 am

We’re about four years into our lean initiative. The challenge … actually the flawed approach that we may have taken is to have gone down the ‘event’ or kaizen approach. After thinking about this a great deal for the past three of those four years I can affirm it’s a transistion of thinking and looking at projects and actually ‘doing’ projects. That change needs to occur w/i people’s heads and it does not necessarily happen through event-focused programs. Training and mentorship play a very strong supporting role in this transistion. Unfortunately some people will make the transistion and others will not and those that do not will be sea anchors in the course of change.

5 Hal June 9, 2009 at 2:11 pm

I was speaking with David Meier, co-author of The Toyota Way Fieldbook and Toyota Talent about kaizen events. He was at Toyota Georgetown for 10 years. He said in that time there were only 3 kaizen blitzs (one week events). In all cases they were manager done with managers leading the way. All other team problem-solving and improving was done in the natural workgroups or problem-solving circles.

In a conversation with Matthew May, author of The Elegant Solution and In Pursuit of Elegance, he spoke of the practice of jishuken. Matt taught innovation at the Toyota Institute. If I remember correctly, he said that Toyota uses manager-led events (jishuken) for their development rather than for making rapid improvement.

It’s never too late to redirect our lean activities. We need to first be clear what kind of production we are doing. Is it process-based or is it project-based? This is a critical distinction to then select an appropriate set of improvement approaches for creating a customer value-oriented organization that is intent on making today better than yesterday. There’s nothing to implement…just a lot of hard work from a growing group of leaders.

6 Joe Ely June 11, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Very useful post, Hal. Central to modifying culture. Thanks.

7 Veronica Brown June 18, 2009 at 4:09 pm

True, please need to understand that Lean is about lowering the cost of mistakes. Most importantly its OK to make mistakes if they are small and we learn quickly from them.


8 Kalyan Vaidyanathan June 22, 2009 at 3:41 am

Here is an article from another industry that captures the essence of lean. http://blog.nadhi.in/2009/06/what-field-marshal-said.html


9 Project Management June 29, 2009 at 10:02 am

I completely agree with Veronica!
Sometimes mistakes can teach us something for the future!

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