Implementing lean operating systems

Give process-efficiency initiatives a longer track with change management.

By Bill Wilder, Life Cycle Institute

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In brief:

  • Change management as a discipline has come a long way.
  • Lean/Six Sigma is shifting toward integrating lean operating systems throughout the enterprise.
  • Apply the proven activities and deliverables to get the people all aboard for the lean/Six Sigma journey, and you will be more likely to meet your business objectives.

Lean/Six Sigma is shifting from a singular focus on implementing tools in a value stream, or small portion of it, to integrating lean operating systems throughout the enterprise.

The Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI, observes that new roles are emerging in response to these changes. The first is the individual with experience in lean manufacturing who is the leader for lean across the company. The second is the individual who is assigned the role of lean change agent.

The change agent must be effective in four areas:

  • creating a persuasive case for change
  • gaining commitment and cooperation
  • influencing without power or position
  • mitigating resistance.

Most lean initiatives fail to meet the business objective. The stories of failures because people did not “get on board” are legion. Those lean initiatives that succeed in meeting business goals are those that produce sustained behavior change through the application of a structured change management approach. They get all the people on board for the lean/Six Sigma journey.

The greatest contributors to change management success are identified in the latest study by Prosci (, a change-management research firm. Participants in Prosci’s 2012 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report identified the following factors:

  1. active and visible executive sponsorship
  2. frequent and open communication about the change
  3. a structured change management approach
  4. dedicated change management resources and funding
  5. employee engagement and participation
  6. engagement with and support from middle management.

The value of investing in the “people side” of lean/Six Sigma initiatives is widely acknowledged. At GE, the Change Acceleration Process (CAP) was implemented to accelerate Six Sigma results. In CAP, the formula for success is QxA=E (technical quality times organization acceptance equals effectiveness). Jack Welch is alleged to have stated that 50% of the time should be focused on “A” activities. In the Toyota Way, Jeffrey Liker added an eighth waste, unused employee creativity, to the traditional seven wastes identified by Toyota and targeted by lean principles. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) now includes this eighth waste.

Lean and Six Sigma projects usually include some investment in tools and processes for managing the people side of change. The most successful lean/Six Sigma initiatives invest in the people side of lean with more than just a few tools or activities. They apply a structured change management approach.

The success in addressing the people side of change has prompted the emergence of the discipline or profession of change management. Change management is the discipline of applying proven, structured tools and processes to overcome the natural resistance to change. By mitigating or even eliminating resistance, projects increase adoption, utilization, and proficiency of the new processes and tools. This drives faster achievement of the desired business results.

In 2010, the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) was formed. This is a global non-profit organization of more than 1,000 change management professionals that is establishing international standards and accreditation for change management professionals. The ACMP serves a role similar to the role that the Project Management Institute (PMI) has served in establishing standards and accreditation for project management professionals.

Project management has long been a recognized and valuable discipline. Today there are more than 500,000 certified project management professionals (PMPs) acknowledged by the PMI, so today we find that it is common to have both a project and change lead on a lean/Six Sigma project.

Common project management approaches include PDCA, the DMAIC model in Six Sigma, ASAP in SAP, or classic project stage gates. Many organizations have established project management offices (PMOs) with well-defined project management governance processes that include stage-gate reviews of project activities and deliverables. For some of you, the organization will already have an established change management process and governance structure. If so, in most cases this will be integrated into the existing project management process.

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