Tales from the Pyramid – Base first

Some improvement initiatives start bottom-up, especially in bigger companies or corporations, when a department manager or local executives decide a Lean deployment program launch without a formal go from top-most bosses.

It can also be a pilot workshop in some area, “just to see” the outcome, agreed by top but without much of their involvement.

Unless the top management is convinced about the improvement initiative and is supporting it, the pyramid looks much like the base is moving forward while the top stays put.

These kind of initiatives may start well, whether because the base is willing to improve operations and reap some benefits for its own or is simply executing orders.

The head of the organization may remain unaware or uninterested for a while or let the thing start without endorsing it, for some reason.

Such a base-first initiative is not likely to succeed as chances are:

  • The champions leave
  • Priorities change
  • Successes may be visible on shop floor but do not show on financial reports
  • It looks like the initiative costs a lot (expenses can be counted) but does not yield countable results from corporate point of view
  • Distracting resources from normal occupation may not be agreed after a while
  • The improvement areas or themes make no sense at corporate level
  • Top management may get clearer idea about improvement potentials, but now want them aligned with strategic objectives

Whether it is stopped or realigned, stakeholders will probably resent it and get discouraged to go on. After all, stopping or realigning the initiative is equal to state the efforts were useless (and nobody stopped them from the beginning).

I do not believe in success of bottom-up initiatives and I can’t remember having seen one succeed after a longer period. Some of them may last some time, but sooner or later one of the above mentioned phenomena will bring it to stall.

If you have a success story started bottom-up to share, you’re welcome!

About The Author, Chris HOHMANN

About The Author, Chris HOHMANN

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

2 thoughts on “Tales from the Pyramid – Base first

  1. Dear Ghristian,

    Yes absolutly, when top down driven Lean has a better chance to be properly implemented because belonging to a decided strategy.

    However, companies currently move so fast with non long lasting overview that a Strategy decided today by a specific manager can be already out of fashion tomorrow mainly due to manager changes who wants to refurbish everything only to put their own printing on the company life.

    So, what to do when nothing is managed from top ? Nothing and waiting for a new sunset ?

    My own perception is globally that Lean and all improvement means are more like tools to be used when possible by any people trained for that.

    May be this is not satisfactory but doing so, we do go ahead anyway.

    Flying Regards



    • Jean-Luc,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      I witnessed such situations you describe and globally agree with you.

      Yet I would first question if what is called strategy is really strategy or a mere local tactic which looks like strategy to local stakeholders?
      Second, I assume even in fast moving businesses, some Critical Success Factors (CSFs) remain basic, regardless of business evolution or ‘strategic jolts’.
      Therefore there are some CSFs to focus on, improve the situation while keeping aligned with meaningful objectives.

      Best Regards.


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