August 08, 2006

Why Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma Fail?

Many Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma begins with much fanfare. However, most of them fizzle out within the first six months. There are ways to avoid this. However, many people who introduce these initiatives are not willing to do what is really required to ensure success. The current trend suggests that most businesses have not been able to capture or sustain the benefits of a lean transformation.

Lean manufacturing represents a fundamental change and most businesses have pursued change in a tactical manner. They must adopt effective strategies to pursue this change. If Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma fail, this is due to the lack of true senior management commitment and understanding of the change process. The ultimate responsibility of the success of any change program, whether it is Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma, falls on the shoulders of the most senior leadership on the site. If the leadership fails, all programs and projects follow suit.

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You nailed it in the final sentence -- its not "lean" that fails, its leadership that fails.

Posted by: Mark Graban | Aug 8, 2006 8:08:58 PM

Yep - its all down to the top management. I used to think that things got de-railed by the middle management who were looking to hold onto their fiefdoms. But the more I think about it, the more Im convinced that its down to the top boss to sort this kind of thing out, and make sure that everyone gets with the programme.

DailyKaizen has an interesting quote on leadership (, which perhaps sums it up:

“I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” –Ralph Nader.

In this circumstance, I guess you could read it as saying that once the top management are convinced, and want to lead the change, their duty is to make the next level down as enthusiastic as they are.


Posted by: Karl McCracken | Aug 10, 2006 3:59:59 PM

This is so true. I have found that upper management time after time decide to implement lean when they are behind the eight ball and losing there shirts. Then someone gives them a rope "Lean Manufacturing" and they only hear some preceived notion of what lean is. Then they run with it, without reading more about it, getting several points of view on it. And in the end, implemented poorly and half heartedly, becomes the next flavor of the month.

I have been working with lean for 8 years and successfully implemented in 3 companies. The major support mechanism: Upper management support, UNDERSTANDING, and support. Yes I said it twice.

Posted by: George Murray | Aug 27, 2006 6:39:38 PM

I agree. Im a employee for a company that started lean about 10 months ago and its getting bogged down because the higher ups never support the leads and the company doesnt promote from within. We build a very specific product and they will just hire random people off the street as long as theyve had any lean experience. I try my best to make it work, but I cant do it alone.

Posted by: Nick | Sep 27, 2007 3:50:55 PM

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