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BH 312

Copyright 2009 by Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. For reprints, call HBS Publishing at (800) 545-7685.

Business Horizons (2009) 52, 7988

Lean, take two! Reections from the second

attempt at lean implementation
Maike Scherrer-Rathje a, Todd A. Boyle b,*, Patricia Deorin a

Institute of Technology Management, University of St. Gallen, Dufourstrasse 40a, 9000 St. Gallen,
Schwartz School of Business & IS, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada B2G 2W5

Lean production;
Case study;
Best management

Abstract Its not easy being lean. And for many companies, getting lean right the
rst time does not always happen. Lean is a management philosophy focused on
identifying and eliminating waste throughout a products entire value stream,
extending not only within the organization but also along the companys supply chain
network. Lean promises signicant benets in terms of waste reduction, and increased organizational and supply chain communication and integration. Implementing lean, however, and achieving the levels of organizational commitment, employee
autonomy, and information transparency needed to ensure its success is a daunting
task. This article describes in detail two lean implementation projects within the
same company: a global manufacturer of food processing machines and equipment.
The rst project was a failure, while the second is viewed as a success. Examining
these projects in detail, the major criteria and conditions that led to either lean
failure or lean success are identied. Based on these conditions, we highlight a
number of lessons learned, all of which may help other organizations ensure the
success of their own lean implementation and improvement efforts.
# 2008 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. All rights reserved.

1. Its not easy being lean

Given recent increases in global competition, scarce
resources, and uctuating economies, it is not surprising that lean production has become critical to
the long-term survival of todays manufacturing
organizations. Lean is a management philosophy
* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses:
(M. Scherrer-Rathje), (T.A. Boyle), (P. Deorin).

focused on identifying and eliminating waste

throughout a products entire value stream, extending not only within the organization but also along the
companys supply chain network. Lean is achieved
through a set of mutually reinforcing practices,
including just-in-time (JIT), total quality management (TQM), total productive maintenance (TPM),
continuous improvement, design for manufacturing
and assembly (DFMA), supplier management, and
effective human resource management (de Treville
& Antonakis, 2006; Narasimhan, Swink, & Kim, 2006;
Shah & Ward, 2003, 2007).

0007-6813/$ see front matter # 2008 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. All rights reserved.

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M. Scherrer-Rathje et al.

Despite the signicant benets lean offers in

terms of waste reduction and increased organizational and supply chain communication and integration, implementing lean and achieving the levels of
organizational commitment, employee autonomy,
and information transparency needed to ensure
its success is a daunting task. Not every company
will be successful in its rst attempt to get lean. The
research featured herein presents lessons learned
from two lean implementation projects within a
leading European manufacturer of food processing
equipment. The rst project, attempted in 1997,
was a failure. The second project, launched in 2006,
is currently viewed to be a success as measured in
terms of management commitment, employee autonomy, information transparency, cultural t,
short-term performance improvement, and longterm sustainability of lean efforts.
To identify the criteria and conditions that led to
lean failure and lean success (respectively), as well
as the lessons learned, detailed interviews were
conducted with 20 members of the company representing a wide variety of functional areas and hierarchical levels, ranging from shop oor employees
to senior management. This article provides insight
to managers regarding what may lead to a successful
(and, also, an unsuccessful) lean outcome, as well as
which practices and activities to consider (or stay
clear of) to ensure the success of their own lean

2. What is lean?
When examining studies addressing lean, it is important to distinguish between those considering
lean from a philosophical perspective related to
guiding principles or overarching goals, and those
analyzing the concept from a practical perspective
as a set of management practices, tools, or techniques that can be observed directly (Shah & Ward,
2007). Lean from a practical or operational perspective involves implementing a set of shop oor tools
and techniques aimed at reducing waste within the
plant and along the supply chain (de Treville &
Antonakis, 2006; Hopp & Spearman, 2004; Liker,
2004; Narasimhan et al., 2006; Shah & Ward,
2003, 2007). Such tools and techniques include,
for example, setup time reduction, kaizen (i.e.,
continuous improvement), six-sigma quality, visual
displays (e.g., 5S), kanban, just-in-time supply systems, and preventative maintenance (Shah & Ward,
2003; White & Prybutok, 2001). Lean as a philosophy, however, considers the interrelationship and
synergistic effect of these practices in order to
improve overall levels of productivity and product

quality, waste reduction outside of traditional

manufacturing (e.g., R&D, accounting), integration
and interaction across functional departments, and
improved work force autonomy. As articulated by
Liker (2004, p. 7):
To be a lean manufacturer requires a way of
thinking that focuses on making the product
ow through value adding processes without
interruption (one piece ow), a pull system
that cascades back from customer demand by
replenishing only what the next operation takes
away at short intervals, and a culture to improve.
Similarly, Shah and Ward (2007, p. 791) dene
lean production as an integrated socio-technical
system whose main objective is to eliminate waste
by concurrently reducing or minimizing supplier,
customer, and internal variability.
The large volume of lean research literature,
combined with its international adoption across a
multitude of industries, testies that this production
systemoriginally developed by Taiichi Ohno for the
Japanese auto industryhas proven its value far
beyond its original geographic region and industrial
sector. Given that lean is a multi-faceted concept and
requires organizations to exert considerable effort
along several dimensions simultaneously, it is not
surprising that successfully implementing lean is a
complex task. Based on the extant literature (e.g.,
Achanga, Shehab, Roy, & Nelder, 2006; de Treville &
Antonakis, 2006; Liker & Meier, 2006; Shah & Ward,
2003, 2007), we consider lean success to occur if a
company achieves the major strategic components of
lean (management commitment, employee autonomy, information transparency, and cultural t), successfully implements a number of practices to
support the operational and tactical aspects of lean
(e.g., JIT, one-piece work ows, continuous improvement, training programs), and provides evidence of
performance improvements and sustainability of the
lean program in the long-term. The research presented herein traces the challenges and accomplishments that a large, global organization faced on its
journey to achieving a vibrant and sustained lean
program, so to better understand the conditions that
may lead to such success.

3. Machinery Inc.
To identify lean success criteria, as well as lessons
learned which should be considered by other companies, this research explores two lean implementation
projects within one large, global organization. The
company chosen for analysis, hereafter referred to as

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Lean, take two! Reections from the second attempt at lean implementation
Machinery Inc., is a leading European manufacturer
of food processing machines and equipment. For the
past several years, Machinery Inc. has generated
annual sales of over s 1 billion (U.S. $1.44 billion).
The company employs approximately 6,200 people
worldwide, 3,000 of whom are located at the head
ofce in Switzerland. During the course of our research, 20 interviews were conducted with managers
and employees representing different functional
areas of the rm. All interviewees were selected
based on their involvement with the current lean
implementation project, or knowledge of/experience with the unsuccessful project in 1997. The
Appendix presents additional details regarding participants involved in the study, interview questions
asked, and the research protocol adopted.

4. Becoming lean at Machinery Inc.:

Take one!
In 1997, Machinery Inc. was a manufacturing company with clear rules, dened hierarchies, and a view
that the existing batch production worked well. Managers at Machinery Inc. were satised with how the
company was performing in its existing markets (food
machines, paint and dye markets) and, as a result,
began to consider entering new markets with modied products (e.g., machines for adding vitamins to
food, machines for forming chocolate into shapes).
Despite senior managements satisfaction with
manufacturing performance at the time, shop oor
employees at Machinery Inc. were struggling with
issues surrounding quality and delivery. This slow
work ow was the result of a steady increase in
volume over a number of years and a micro-view
of process improvement, whereby a piecemeal or
band-aid approach was taken to address manufacturing inefciencies, versus examining and possibly
redesigning the entire manufacturing process. Given
their struggle to keep up with existing product volume, employees at Machinery Inc. took it upon themselves to identify ways in which operational
efciency could be improved.
As revealed by our interviews, the rst attempt at
lean followed a bottom-up approach and was
sparked when a production line supervisor came
up with the idea of applying a number of lean
practices (e.g., one-piece ow, individual work
cells) to the way that 12 main machines (i.e.,
nished products) were produced, so as to reduce
lead times and improve quality. This supervisor
introduced the idea to senior management, who
agreed to fund a lean implementation project and
nominated him as project leader. The newly formed
lean project team, comprised of the production


supervisor and four employees, quickly dened a

strategy and vision for the project, and developed a
schedule for the implementation process. Once the
schedule was nalized, employees impacted by the
lean changes were trained and preparations for the
implementation of the new changes were made.
Although agreeing to fund the project, senior
management took a hands-off approach to the rst
lean implementation effort. The project leader and
the lean team were responsible for the project and
managed it by themselves. While implementing lean,
members of the project team still had functional
duties, forcing team members to address lean issues
while at the same time balancing their day-to-day
responsibilities. This made it difcult for team members to stay focused on the lean planning and implementation efforts; as a result, excitement for, and
commitment to, the project began to decrease. In
addition to lean, a number of other change projects
were occurring in manufacturing (e.g., process optimization, cost reduction) at the same time. These
other projects were isolated from one another, sometimes led by external consultants, and viewed to be in
competition with one another. In other words, there
was no cross-project coordination or management
disclosure regarding how all of these projects were
related and how, combined, they would improve
overall levels of manufacturing performance.
All of these issues caused the lean project to
become very unpopular with employees, with only
the team believing in the true value of the initiative.
Even with the challenges facing the team, a number
of lean wins did occur, including cost and time
reductions in the areas with completed work cells.
Despite these initial successes, however, 6 months
into the project and with lean practices (e.g., work
cells, one-piece work ow) being applied to the
production of four machine types, the lean project
was nally terminated due to a lack of organizational
support and a senior management reorganization.

4.1. Sources of lean failure

We asked both managers and employees to reect on
the initiative, so as to better understand the reasons
underlying the project failure. Probing this issue in
more detail, we found that the bottom-up implementation approach to the lean project produced a cascading effect of problems, including lack of senior
management commitment, lack of team autonomy,
and lack of organizational communication ofand
interest inlean. These specic problems led to
the termination of the lean project. The fact that
the project was initiated following a bottom-up
approach resulted in a lack of senior management
commitment; managerial support, as was noted

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M. Scherrer-Rathje et al.

earlier, is critical to lean success. As stated by the

Swiss-based manager for production:

Usually, I had to leave without the desired


We learned from the 1997 project that top

management commitment is important. The
project has to come top-down. . . .If it is initiated bottom-up, it needs too many resources to
achieve goals, and the goals will not be noticed

Despite the challenges faced, the project team did

experience, rst-hand, the benets of lean. However, these lean wins (e.g., cost reduction, lead time
reduction) were not being communicated effectively
at all levels of the organization. Employees in
manufacturing and other functional areas were not
aware of the success of the project and, as a result,
there was little support from them. The team decided themselves to show initial lean successes to employees, in order to highlight the value of the project.
It was assumed that, after those employees highly
impacted by the project were convinced that lean
does result in performance improvements, word
would spread throughout the company of these initial
successes. The project leader describes the situation
as follows:

The lack of senior management commitment and

interest in lean also meant that employees who
were affected by the lean changes did not understand how this new project was related to the many
others which were occurring, at the same time, in
manufacturing. An employee in strategic procurement remembers the problem very well. . .
This project was only one out of many projects
going on at the same time. The employees were
not motivated at all to start another project.
They did not see any benets from the lean
project and. . .thought that it was a waste of
time, taking away [time that was needed] to
conduct daily business.
. . . as does the director of engineered products:
We also [realized], of the 1997 project, that a
certain degree of change fatigue occurred. In
1997, we had many change projects in parallel;
some employees were confused with what was
going on.
Senior managements lack of interest in, and commitment to, the project was also accompanied by a
reluctance to delegate decision-making authority to
the project team. Although employees managed the
project in its entirety, they were not given the power
to implement process changes and improvements as
they saw t. As a result, the project leader had to
prepare all team needs, ideas, and recommendations, and then organize meetings with those managers who held the decision-making power. This
resulted in signicant lag times in decisions being
made, with many requests critical to project success
being rejected, as highlighted by the lean project
The managers I needed to talk to were not
interested in the topic, and only agreed to
appointments with me very reluctantly. I spent
hours collecting all needs from my employees,
designing the presentations, and preparing my
argumentation strategy to convince the managers of the relevance of our topics. The meetings were usually frustrating for both [parties]:
the management team was not interested in
the topics and I felt [their] unwillingness. . . .

Those employees who had been convinced of

the success of the project, because they saw
that we really changed something, stuck to the
concept of work cells. All other employees did
not understand what we did, and kept their old
work habits.
Word did not, however, spread quickly as anticipated. At the time of project cancellation, the
mindset of employees not yet impacted by the
project was that they had worked effectively without lean; therefore, they felt no need to change
existing processes. Although a few work cells managed to survive, lean was not implemented throughout the factory, and the project was considered a
failure. The 1997 project leader recalls:
We were very frustrated. With only four work
cells and pre-work on others done, we [had]
already reduced the costs per manufactured
machine by 50%. That the project had been
stopped anyway showed us that, even if we
showed results, management has to be made
aware of this fact. If they would have known
what we achieved, I am convinced they would
not have stopped our attempts.
Having failed at its rst try, it would be almost 10
years before Machinery Inc. would undertake a
second attempt at lean.

5. Becoming lean at Machinery Inc.:

Take two!
In 2006, the CEO of Machinery Inc. initiated a second
attempt at implementing lean. The reasons for the
second attempt were twofold. First, the CEO was

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Lean, take two! Reections from the second attempt at lean implementation
convinced that a pull system (seen as a critical
component of lean production) was needed to reduce production costs and remain competitive.
Second, manufacturing was struggling with a volume of orders never before seen in the history of
Machinery Inc. With product demand having doubled from 2005 to 2006, the manufacturing manager
was forced to inform customers that Machinery Inc.
would delay delivering orders for up to 12 months.
Not surprisingly, the customers were frustrated
with the situation and began looking for alternative
suppliers. Initial discussions regarding the increased volume situation led the CEO and senior
management to give lean another try, with the
expectation that lean would not only decrease
throughput time by 50% but also reduce
manufacturing costs. As part of this new lean implementation project, a Japanese consultanta
former Toyota employee who had, in recent years,
focused his efforts on bringing the lean philosophy
to Europebecame a major source for information
on lean improvement.
Remembering the impact that employee resistance had on the rst lean attempt, senior managers
realized the importance of getting employees involved as early as possible and, as a result, decided
to begin the lean journey using a pilot project. The
company decided to focus its initial lean efforts on
one particular business unit and process; specically,
the assembly of machines designed for the chocolate
confectionary industry. A major driver for applying
lean to this business unit was that the area had
experienced a recent spike in product demand,
and was having difculty completing orders on time.
The most important criterion in choosing this area,
however, was that it promised to be a good proving
ground: chocolate confectionary machines are less
intricate than many other Machinery Inc. products,
and thus this business unit would reduce some of the
complexities of applying lean. Management felt this
would improve the chances of initial lean success,
and therefore help demonstrate the value of lean to
the entire company.
Recognizing the need to address spikes in product
demand across the entire manufacturing department, and with the pilot project well underway
at 2 months duration, the decision was made to
roll out lean to all processes involving the chocolate
confectionary machines. Building upon the pilot
project approach, lean was also applied to the
assembly of all other food processing machines
(e.g., our mills), and later to all relevant processes
for these machines. Lean was also implemented in
related areas such as Treasury and Finance. As a
result, in early 2007, the entire manufacturing department and some processes from other functional


areas were undergoing large changes in order to

make their operations more lean.
To reduce lead times and retain customers, there
was a need to swiftly implement lean. Recalling the
failures of 1997, senior management knew it was
crucial to prevent the decision-making bottleneck
which occurred during the rst project. To this end,
they were convinced changes were required in
granting employees the autonomy to make process
improvement decisions. To address this issue, Machinery Inc. established so-called just do it (JDI)
rooms. These rooms were established for all the
business units (e.g., chocolate, grinding and dispersion, grain milling) that would eventually be involved in the lean implementation. Within these
rooms, the entire customer order process is displayed, from the initial request for a product to
its shipment to the customer. Each customer order is
written on a piece of paper with the name of the
customer, the name of the ordered machine, and
the agreed delivery date. These sheets are attached
to a rope that is xed at the walls and leads around
the whole room. At the wall, 12 milestones and 3
go/no-go decision points are noted, and as soon as the
respective order has passed one of the milestones or a
go/no-go point, the sheet is moved forward. Every
morning, an interdisciplinary team meets in the
respective JDI room to discuss the status of every
order and whether problems have occurred that may
affect a specic order. The discussion starts at the
nal milestone (i.e., outbound logistics to the
customer) and works its way backward, in order to
emphasize the idea of a pull system.
If an individual cannot attend the meeting they
must nominate a representative, who automatically
has the same decision-making power. For issues that
cannot be addressed during one of the meetings, a
task force is created to address them. Within the JDI
rooms, the focus is not to assign blame to a particular person or group, but instead nd a solution
together and make changes to prevent it from happening again. Given the wide representation in
these rooms, collectively, involved individuals have
a macro view of the issue (i.e., how the issue affects
other business units and functional areas), detailed
information on the issue (i.e., micro view), and real
autonomy to make decisions and implement them.
Despite granting increased autonomy to those
implementing lean, senior managers at Machinery
Inc. were hesitant to communicate the tactical and
strategic goals of lean to the entire organization.
Having recognized the change fatigue that employees suffered during the rst lean initiative, Machinery Inc. decided to communicate only a vague goal
of what should be achieved during the second project. At the time, management feared that clearly

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M. Scherrer-Rathje et al.

dened tactical and strategic goals could overwhelm employees and lead to boycotts of the project. As a result, it was decided that the next steps in
achieving lean would only be introduced when employees accepted and successfully carried out the
current step. A machine assembler appreciated this
approach and described it as follows:
I liked that we had not been told the overall goal.
Otherwise, some employees would have been
against the project from the beginning and
would not have been open to the new solutions.
The leader of worldwide production saw both
advantages and disadvantages:
Not communicating the overall goal leads to
confusion, but the good employees bring their
own ideas. In the end, the employees are supporting the new system because they designed
After a few months, managers felt the initial
approach of restricting communication was leading
to a growing fear among employees. The employees
started to believe that although a small step was
successful, they could possibly be going in the wrong
direction. An employee in planning and controlling
stated that:
Some employees had started to fear that even if
the single steps made sense, they would realize
too late that they went in a completely wrong
direction by blindly following the small goals.
Recognizing the growing frustration that employees felt about not knowing the general direction of
lean changes, senior managers at Machinery Inc.
changed their communication tactics. Specically,
6 months into the project, they initiated monthly
debrieng meetings which involved the lean team,
senior managers, and consultants on the project.
During these meetings, managers were updated on
all major lean discussions and issues that occurred
during the month, and what the next short- and
long-term lean steps should be. Managers were then
expected to communicate to their employees what
was discussed at the meetings and how it might affect
them. This new approach to goal disclosure is more
in line with the extant literature, which strongly
emphasizes the importance of openly disclosing
lean goals versus keeping employees in the dark
(e.g., Hines, Holweg, & Rich, 2004; Lathin & Mitchell,
Reecting on the 1997 lean attempt, managers
recognized that proper mechanisms must be in place
so as to prevent employees from returning to pre-lean
habits. Thus, throughout the second attempt, a
number of changes were made to ensure this.

For example, the plant setup and resulting processes

were signicantly changed, making it harder for
employees to revert back to the old ways of doing
things. In addition, management believed that if
employees felt responsible for creating, implementing, and owning a certain process, they would stick to
the new process. The company also began to train
lean black belts, an adaptation to the black belts
common with six sigma. These black belts were
expected to live lean and to spread the philosophy
throughout the whole company. The head of customer services describes the importance of these black
These employees are the so called black
belts which report directly to our CEO. If we
didnt establish these black belts, I am sure
that the second lean attempt [would] follow
the same destiny as the rst lean implementation attempt.
Machinery Inc.s completely different secondary
approach to implementing lean (e.g., management
commitment, employee autonomy, information
transparency) seems to have worked. Indeed, 14
months into the second attempt at lean, managers
have seen a number of performance improvements
in the areas of lead time and manufacturing costs,
among others. The leader of worldwide production
summarized the success so far as follows:
In [terms of] productivity, we certainly increased
quite a lot. Prior to lean, we nished two
machines per week; now, after lean, we nish
ten machines per week. With the increase
in productivity, the resource availability also
The head of customer service added:
Next to an increase in productivity and resource
availability, we see that employees are willing
to develop themselves further and have a high
interest in continuing education. Lean has also
initiated discussions in how to increase our
competitive advantages further.
With acceptance levels of lean high, frustration
levels low, benets of lean present, and formal
mechanisms in place to keep momentum going, it
appears that this current lean effort will be sustainable over time.

5.1. Sources of lean success

As stated earlier, we qualify lean success as evidence
of management commitment to, and involvement in,
the lean effort; employee autonomy to make decisions regarding business process changes; informa-

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Lean, take two! Reections from the second attempt at lean implementation
tion transparency of lean goals; and evidence of
initial performance improvements and long-term
sustainability of lean efforts. It appears that Machinery Inc.s second attempt at lean has proven to be
successful. Management has shown active and visible
commitment to the project from the beginning. The
utilization of JDI rooms ensures employee autonomy
in process changes. Although low during the beginning of the second attempt, we now witness transparency in communication with employees.
Machinery Inc. is already seeing the performance
benets of lean in terms of reduced lead times,
increased efciency, and reduced operating costs.
Based on these accomplishments, it appears the lean
at Machinery Inc. will be sustainable in the long run.
So, what led to the success of the current lean
project? Summarizing the interview data, a number
of factors were highlighted by employees and managers. Both groups emphasized that visible and
active senior management participation in the project proved a critical cornerstone for success. This
participation helped the employees in becoming
convinced of the necessity of lean. This commitment was also important as it ensured that managers stayed involved, understood the challenges
faced, and were enabled to make quick decisions
as needed. The director of engineered products
underscored these issues:
Top management commitment is a must. The
employees must see that management is interested in the changes. Without the commitment,
employees will not see the necessity to spend
even one minute thinking about the project.
A machine assembler also stressed how management commitment improved the chances of success
of the project:
It was important for us to see that the whole
management team, the CEO, and the board
members were committed to the project. It
motivated us to work on the project and to share
our ideas with others. We knew that if we needed
more time for the project, it was not a problem
to ask for it, because it was top priority.
Illustrating quick lean wins as achieved via the
pilot project, as well as the communication of those
victories throughout the organization, was also
cited as a major factor leading to the success of
the second lean project. Managers emphasized the
importance of a pilot project which could produce
speedy yet tangible results. As stated by the director
of engineered products:
Choosing such a project not only allowed employees to experience rst-hand the value of


lean, but also motivated them by giving them

responsibility over the design of new processes
and their implementation.
The Swiss-based manager of production concurred:
The employees had been skeptical in the beginning, but as soon as they saw that improvements really happened, they worked together
with the project team. It was important to have
successes right in the beginning to motivate the
Also mentioned as key was formal and visible
employee autonomy to make quick decisions and
undertake business process changes. Reecting on
the 1997 project, it became apparent to managers at
Machinery Inc. that employees needed to have the
power to make decisions on lean issues, without
having to involve in discussions managers not interested in the issues. The entire decision-making process needs to be agile and enable process changes
within a short time frame. Formal mechanisms such
as the JDI rooms addressed this issue by providing
employees ownership of the manufacturing processes, involvement in decisions inuencing the success
of lean, autonomy to carry out these decisions and,
ultimately, buy-in on the lean project. An employee
in planning and controlling, and frequent attendee of
the JDI rooms, explains their advantage:
Every person attending the just do it room has
decision-making power to decide directly. . .
what to do if a decision is needed. For things
that cannot be decided during one of those
meetings, a task force is created to solve
the problem and an end date is given, until when
the problem has to be presented in the just do
it room.
Although responsibility and management of the
lean program fell into the hands of managers and
employees at Machinery Inc., the company sought
external validation of all lean efforts; this, too,
contributed to the success of the project. This external validation was achieved through the participation
of a consultant, whose role was to work with project
managers to identify possible lean practices that
could be used to reach the aspired goals. Present
on-site for 1 week per month, the consultant walked
through the manufacturing facility, participated in
meetings, and veried if employees had stayed focused on the lean implementation project. If not, it
was the role of the consultant to assist managers in
bringing employee focus back to the project.
The fact that managers listened to employees and
were not afraid to make changes to initial plans also
contributed to lean success. This is perhaps best

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M. Scherrer-Rathje et al.

demonstrated by senior managements preliminary

attempt to limit the communication of tactical and
strategic lean goals. The head of ITand processes, for
example, was concerned that by only communicating
short-term lean goals, the overall lean optimization
of the factory might be abandoned as the project
continued to move forward. Sensing growing frustration and considering how it might affect success of
the lean project, senior managers reevaluated this
communication approach and changed to open disclosure of tactical and strategic goals. Had managers
not taken corrective action in the second project,
specically the implementation of monthly lean
meetings and the communication of results to employees, we are not condent as to whether Machinery Inc. would be as successful as we see it today.
Establishing feedback loops, obtaining feedback on
lean activitiesboth positive and negativeand
making adjustments, if needed, are critical for lean
success (Lathin & Mitchell, 2001; Liker, 2004).

6. Lessons learned at Machinery Inc.

6.1. Lesson #1: Lean will not succeed
without visible management commitment
In analyzing the failure of the rst project and the
success of the second, many lessons can be culled
from Machinery Inc. which should be considered by
organizations undergoing lean implementation or
improvement efforts. The rst lesson is that lean
will not succeed without visible and active management commitment. This issue was highlighted by
numerous participants, including the director of
engineered products, the manager of production
for Switzerland, the head of customer service,
and the head of detail manufacturing. As evidenced
by the 1997 project, such lack of commitment may
lead to a host of other issues, including limited
access to resources, lengthy decision-making
processes, and communication breakdowns. Sans
management commitment, employees may not realize the importance of lean and how it relates to
other initiatives occurring in the organization at the
same time. Respondents in our study made it very
clear that lack of management commitment was the
number one cause for failure of the rst project, and
a key criterion in the success of the second. These
viewpoints closely match the research literature,
which has absolutely stressed the need for senior
management commitment toward lean success
(Crandall & Coffey, 2005; Crute, Ward, Brown, &
Graves, 2003; Leitner, 2005; Nash & Poling, 2007).
For example, Crute et al. (2003), examining two
manufacturing sites implementing lean, found that

the site with a high degree of management support

saw lean results 12 months sooner than the site with
conicting management initiatives.

6.2. Lesson #2: Develop formal

mechanisms to encourage and enable
For managers, being visible on the project is one
thing; enabling employees to make decisions regarding lean improvements is, however, quite another.
The second lesson that managers should take away
from Machinery Inc. is the vital importance of employee autonomy to lean success, something which
must be supported and enabled via the development
of formal mechanisms. The 1997 project reects the
effects of a lack of team autonomy, specically
employee frustration, lengthy decision-making processes, and requests refused that were necessary for
lean success. In contrast, the 2006 project was characterized by managers who were not only willing to
grant employees autonomy, but practices that were
put in place to ensure this autonomy and the capability to make quick decisions as needed.
The JDI rooms represent a critical lean practice
praised by the employees at Machinery Inc. This
single mechanism has given employees a sense of
ownership over the processes to be changed, and has
signicantly increased buy-in for the project. The
majority of the employees we interviewed felt that
this was the single best practice for getting them
actively involved and committed to lean. Bringing
people together and giving them the power to make
and implement lean decisions is strongly supported in
the literature (Alukal, 2003; Crute et al., 2003; Hines
et al., 2004; Liker, 2004; Nash & Poling, 2007;
Schonberger, 2005). For example, Liker (2004) stresses the importance of building a culture which stops to
x problems, in order to achieve lean. Likewise,
Alukal (2003, p. 33) suggests:
Creativity before capital. . . .In lean, team
brainstorming of ideas and solutions is emphasized instead of spending large sums of money on
capital expenditures. People working in the process are brought together to tap into their experiences, skills, and brainpower to generate a
plan for waste reduction and process improvement.

6.3. Lesson #3: Openly disclose mid- to

long-term lean goals
The third lesson illustrated by the two project
attempts at Machinery Inc. involves the necessity
of openly disclosing mid- to long-term lean goals.

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Lean, take two! Reections from the second attempt at lean implementation
This issue was underlined by many, including a
project leader in information systems, the leaders
of international projects and worldwide production,
and the heads of the following departments: shipping, logistics, quality management, and detail
manufacturing. Initially, management felt that
not disclosing goals would help to reduce resistance,
as employees would not be aware of any potential
in-depth changes which could spark a boycott. This
black-box approach is counter to the common management belief that only a full disclosure of information guarantees success. However, considering
the special circumstances surrounding Machinery
Inc. (i.e., change fatigue and a prior failed attempt
at lean implementation), this approach was probably the only way to get the initial support of the
employees. Such a scenario may not play out well in
other companies, and must thus be approached with
caution. While initially successful, the decision to
not disclose the tactical and strategic lean goals
ultimately increased frustration and confusion for
those involved. Machinery Inc. is certainly not the
only company to have ever faced resistance and fear
at the hand of less than full disclosure regarding lean
goals and activities. Tracing one companys transition from batch to lean manufacturing, Brown,
Collins, and McCombs (2006, p. 12) relate that:
Communication to the employees was the single
biggest lesson learned. Company-wide meetings
were started after the rst three [Kaizen] events
caused increased tension and job security concerns on the shop oor. It is recommended to
have a meeting with the entire work team affected by an upcoming Kaizen to dispel rumors,
ease tension, and answer questions.

6.4. Lesson #4: Ensure mechanisms are in

place for the long-term sustainability of
The fourth lesson is the need to put mechanisms in
place to ensure that lean is sustainable over the long
term. If not, as evidenced by the 1997 project,
employees may be tempted to revert to their prelean ways. In the rst project, only those four work
cells in which physical changes were made actually
remained after the project was terminated. As
regards work cells in which changes were being
discussed or were in progress, employees immediately returned to their pre-lean ways. In the 2006
project, various respondents (e.g., director of engineered products, leader of worldwide production,
chief designer, head of IT and processes) highlighted
a number of mechanisms that were put in place to
ensure this would not occur, and that lean at Ma-


chinery Inc. will prevail over time. Such mechanisms

included undergoing structural alterations, implementing self-controlling interdisciplinary teams, assigning certain employees the task of actively
promoting lean (e.g., lean black belts), and giving
employees the condence to try new ideas without
punishing failure. These kinds of activities have
found support in the literature as helping to achieve
lean goals (Crute et al., 2003; Nash & Poling, 2007).

6.5. Lesson #5: Communicate lean wins

from the outset
The fth lesson is as follows: lean wins need to be
communicated from the outset! Members of the
1997 lean implementation team were convinced
that had lean successes been better communicated,
there would have resulted increased support from
the shop oor and managers would have been less
quick to give up on the project. During the second
lean effort, a pilot project approach was taken in
order to demonstrate very quickly the benets of
lean. Once it became evident that the pilot project
was a success, it became much easier to implement
lean in other areas (e.g., different food processing
machines, such as our mills). Use of a pilot project
to get the company motivated for lean and to
demonstrate quick wins is supported in the extant
literature (e.g., Alukal, 2003). Obtaining and communicating early lean successes is critical such that
employees across the organization can better understand the benets of lean, and such that lean will
have a positive impact on the organization. Managers must be continually informed of these early lean
successes and communicate them throughout the
entire organization.

6.6. Lesson #6: Continual evaluation

during the lean effort is critical
The nal lesson relates the critical importance of
continual evaluation and measurement during the
lean implementation effort. By evaluating the lean
program, managers at Machinery Inc. were able to
identify the need to change from the black-box
approach to full disclosure of information. The consultant provided external validation that Machinery
Inc. was still on its lean journey, and helped determine corrective action when Machinery Inc. strayed
from its path. Companies will make mistakes as they
pursue lean. Regular program evaluation and checks
on lean progress will ensure that these mistakes are
addressed right away, minimizing their impact on
the lean effort. The need for constant analysis of
lean progress, obtaining feedback, and reacting on
the feedback is widely supported in the literature

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M. Scherrer-Rathje et al.

(e.g., Lathin & Mitchell, 2001), with Liker (2004)

highlighting that lean involves becoming a learning
organization via constant reection and continuous
Is the lean adventure complete for Machinery
Inc.? In short, no. The pursuit of lean is neverending, and Machinery Inc. is just beginning its
journey. This article has focused on Machinery Inc.s
pursuit of lean in its manufacturing operations. With
its success in this area, Machinery Inc. has taken
recent steps to apply lean to areas outside of
manufacturing, such as various nancial processes
and purchasing for its entire global operations. It
appears that, at this large and successful global
manufacturer, lean will not be slowing down anytime soon. By analyzing the lessons learned at Machinery Inc., senior managers will be enabled to
take their manufacturing operations one step closer
to the successful application of lean.

To explore the two lean projects, detailed interviews were conducted with a wide variety of individuals from Machinery Inc. Senior managers
interviewed included the director of engineered
products, head of risk management and insurances,
head of IT and processes, leader of international
projects, leader of worldwide production, and the
manager of production for Switzerland. Middle and
tactical managers interviewed included heads of
detail manufacturing, assembly, quality management, logistics, shipping, customer services, as well
as the treasurer and a project leader from information systems, who was also the lean project leader in
1997. Shop oor employees interviewed included a
member from planning and controlling, nancial
services, detail manufacturing, strategic procurement worldwide, as well as the chief designer and a
machine assembler.
Questions posed to participants covered their
role in the lean implementation projects; the motivations to implement lean; the major differences
between the two implementation projects; what
they had learned from the implementation projects;
what recommendations they would give other companies implementing lean; and what could be done
so that the implementation will remain sustainable.
Each interview lasted approximately 1.5 hours and
was attended by two researchers. In addition to the
interviews, the researchers conducted three plant
visits/tours lasting 1-3 hours each, as well as two
discussion sessions within the business unit to expe-

rience, rst-hand, information transparency issues

and how problems associated with current lean
efforts were addressed. By conducting site visits
and attending discussion sessions, the researchers
were able to observe company practices, verify
issues/changes discussed in the interviews, and
better understand how employees were coping with
lean and the associated changes.

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