Lean counts among most popular continuous improvement programs and certainly among most started. Gains and savings usually are fast and important yet Lean is credited with high failure rate.
Failure, a question of time
One reservation about failure is considering time and duration. Lean is supposed to be a never-ending quest of perfection, which means there is no failure as long as improvement efforts go on.
However, if no noticeable improvement is proven after a period of time, consistent with density of efforts spent, and all other things being equal, the question about failure is legitimate.
The notion of “density” is a reminder improving here and there, improving « when we have time to » will not drive the expected transformation, ultimate goal of a true Lean journey.
It happens often; people on the shopfloor got operational success but are unable to translate it into monetary units and figures, sole units controlling and top management care for.
No bottom line figures, no proof.
What controlling and top management can always sum up are all related expenses; material, hours spent training, consultant’s fees and so on. Without accountable gains and savings facing expenses, return on investment is null and Lean initiative quoted a failure.
Real demonstrated successes… crushed by economic conjuncture
Ironically some real successes are just wiped away by a change in economic conjuncture or competition’s breakthrough.
One automotive plant manager gave us credit for helping Lean transformation to achieve a 25% reduction of break-even point, alas, soon after turnover dropped 30% (consistently with French automotive industry beginning of 2013).
This last point reminds us any improvement is temporary and improvement must be ongoing, because:
“He who stops being better stops being good“. Oliver Cromwell