by Brad Cairns
firstname.lastname@example.org LEAN JOURNEYS
One of the questions I get asked often is, “What can we do to ensure that we have a successful lean transformation?” Of course,
there are many elements to making the
transition successful, but there is one
behavior that is certain to slow down or
even thwart your success.
“Thrashing” is when you make too
many changes on the fly, and without
adequate testing. Have you heard
of the PDCA Demming Circle, also
known as the Shewhart Cycle?
It’s an acronym for Plan, Do, Check,
Act. It seems simple enough, so much
so that most people skim over it and
take for granted that it’s ingrained in
their system. But, it’s not. In fact, it’s
where most people try to cut corners.
Some of us like to plan and do. Some
of us like to plan and act. If you do the
full cycle of PDCA, it will likely seem
like it’s no big deal. But when you’re
not doing the whole cycle, every time,
you will feel the pain. And, it could be
at the cost of your lean transformation.
A few quick changes that haven’t
been fully vetted are predictably painful
and will feed the drama surround-
ing the anti-lean movement in your
organization. This is where the, “See, I
told you it wouldn’t work” group gets all
fired up and suddenly has a lot of input
into your struggle of the day. It’s like a
feeding frenzy at the zoo! And so the
campaign for dissenters find their voice,
and work on the ones that are still on
the fence about this whole lean thing.
Without baseline data, rigorous testing, thoughtful communication and
training, you are setting sail for that
rugged, broiling coastline on a wing
and a prayer. Not only is the process
change that you are confident will work
likely to fail, but you’ve lost anyone that
trusted you and fueled the fire of dissent within the organization.
You can’t always be lucky
Why do people cut corners and not
strictly and consistently follow the
PDCA circle? We’re human, and likely
are emotionally attached to our belief
of the solution and the problem we
are trying to solve. We like to get there
quickly and that forces us to make
assumptions, dangerous assumptions.
And if it works, we feel like rock stars!
But I call that luck.
We all get lucky sometimes. And
more often than not, we not only don’t
have the desired effect, we break something else downstream, and the problems multiply like bacteria in a warm,
dark place. Panic ensues, people are
reduced to finger pointing, and base
behavior to protect themselves from the
inevitable flow of pain from above.
So, what if we followed the PDCA
circle? How would this prevent or
lessen the negative impact of a misdi-agnosis or failed process improvement?
For one, you wouldn’t be laying the
fertile foundation for the breakdown
of teams and a failed transformation.
How about we start by just reducing
the amount of frustration and damage
caused by seat-of-the-pants changes.
And of course, if you are checking the
A better process for making lean improvements will help ensure long-term success.
See more at the
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Brad Cairns is the senior principal at The Center for Lean
Learning as well as running a woodworking business called
Best Damn Doors in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, where
he puts lean thinking into action every day. You can reach
Brad at 519-494-2883 or email@example.com.