Posted on October 23, 2016 · Posted in Leadership, Lean, Lean Thoughts, Uncategorized



I’ve seen Lean transformations go down three paths.

  1. Hire a consultant and have them perform Kaizen events in the part of the company where you make your money. Occasionally, this path will venture into non-money-making parts of the company.
  2. Hire or promote an employee whose full or part-time job is to conduct your company’s Lean transformation.
  3. In extremely rare instances, Executives hire themselves to run their own transformation and seek a wizened consultant to guide them.

PATH #1: Hired (Gun) Consultant

Consultant’s team comes in and quickly map out the work ahead, brief executives and then set to work. They produce results, and they keep producing results. Everyone is ecstatic. Then comes the day to renew the consultant’s contract.

The organization has been at this for months or years. The consultants have shown how easy it is. Executives are sure they can do it on their own. They don’t extend the contract.

It doesn’t happen at first, but with the consultants gone, conditions gradually drift back to pre-consultant levels. Why? The consultants were doing all the real work. Only they knew the real magic.

PATH #2: Hired (Gun) Employee

The employee begins with first-day-of-school earnest. They develop Value Stream Maps, identify where to conduct Kaizens and go right to work. As with the consultants, they make progress.

Now, everyone knew the consultants were getting paid by the executives and were reporting to that level. No one dared pushback. Not so with the employee. For one reason, this person is usually buried several layers below the chief executive. For another, they are not managers and have no authority. They are told to get things done using influence. Of course, they don’t broadcast that and carry on as if they have the full weight of the executive behind them, but at some point, someone says “No.”

If the executive doesn’t come to the employee’s defense, then game over and the transformation becomes a hollow shell. If they do, two things have been made clear: first, the employee has no authority of their own; second, the executive will have to come to the employee’s defense every time the latter gets pushback.

The first time the executive doesn’t, the employee looses their air cover. Conditions deteriorate. The employee never manages to get beyond small scale improvements. Seen as ineffectual, they are reassigned or let go, and the transformation stalls.

PATH #3: Executives Hire Themselves

Executives own the transformation. Their wizened consultant takes it slow, first teaching the executives, and then getting them to teach their subordinates, in the tools and philosophies of Lean.

Executives appoint one of their own to act as the head of their Lean initiative. With the consultant’s help, executives develop top-down metrics that give them a scorecard of their progress up and down the organization. Using a Value Stream Map as their guide, they conduct Kaizen events to improve processes and Kaikaku events to improve systems. They develop a list of 3-5 year breakthrough objectives, and use the X-Matrix and A3 forms to keep progress on path.

Key, however, is that the executives Lead. There is no doubt who owns this transformation and the use of top-down metrics aligns the entire organization to move as one in the direction of mission success.


Only one of the three paths leads to lasting, sustainable and continuous improvement. If you are on Paths #1 or #2, seriously consider shifting to Path #3 as fast as possible. And, yes, I’d be honored to help.