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Our Process


Our Lean ProcessLet’s start with the fundamental understanding that everything Toyota does is with a problem solving mindset. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G! Every tool and concept you’ve heard about and attempted is designed to analyze, highlight and/or countermeasure problems.

What is a problem? A problem exists anytime there is a gap between what you are experiencing and what you desire to experience. In other words, any time there is a difference between the established standard and the actual result you have a problem.

Let’s look at an example of a common tool in the light of problem solving:

What is the purpose of standardized work? Most would say it’s to ensure quality, repeatability and predictability in a process. Perhaps you may say it is a reference tool for the worker. All of that is true, on the surface. However, the main purpose of standardized work is to define a ‘desired condition’ and provide managers with a tool to quickly see when the desired condition is not being met. Better-stated, standardized work is to show us when a problem exists.

We also use standardized work as an analysis tool to look for waste in the process. Waste is simply the manifestation of a problem. Waste is a symptom; it exists due to an underlying problem.


While Lean Associates offers a wide variety of consulting, training and support services, the basic model of knowledge transfer and rapid results stems from the teaching and application of Toyota’s Problem Solving Method.
Instead of monthly kaizen events, or the random teaching and application of tools, or endless value stream mapping – all of which are rarely sustainable, netting a dismal ROI – Lean Associates focuses the lean effort on real, current organizational problems. Of course we teach the tools, techniques and concepts of lean but we do it within the context of analyzing and addressing real problems.

This approach is significantly more effective (ROI) and sustainable than the traditional consulting approach of periodic scheduled kaizen event weeks.

Here’s why:

We all know that at the very center of the Toyota system is the concept of continuous improvement. The very definition of continuous means ‘without interruption.’ Improvement on a periodic, scheduled basis is not only in conflict with Toyota’s system but it is also very difficult to sustain results and maintain momentum. Furthermore, in most cases the kaizen team is left with a laundry list of “To Dos” and without the means to get them done. There is rarely true ownership of changes and the net results 2 weeks after the event are sorely disappointing.

The Lean Associates “Practical Lean System™” more closely approximates the objective of continuous improvement by initiating a methodology that requires weekly, even daily, effort and steady progress. Click here for an overview of the Practical Lean System™

By centering the lean effort on the real problems of the organization Lean Associates Practical Lean System™ effectively addresses the top 5 common failures and complaints voiced by organizations on the lean journey. They are:

  1. It’s difficult to sustain the gains.
  2. Results don’t match expectations.
  3. Lack of support from superiors and lack of buy in from subordinates and peers.
  4. Lack of necessary resources (people and/or money).
  5. Improvements have reached a plateau and don’t move beyond it.

The Lean Associates Practical Lean System™ teaches and applies Toyota’s Problem Solving tool in a practical and concrete manner allowing these problems to be notably reduced, if not removed all together.

It’s difficult to sustain the gains. The natural organizational instinct of self-preservation will allow gains to be sustained when those gains lead to a countermeasure for a real problem. Especially when the problem can be directly linked to a balance sheet category or a key performance indicator.
Results don’t match expectations. The Problem Solving method is iterative and though you may not achieve your desired condition from your first attempt, you will make progress toward it. Further progress is gained during the next iteration and the next until you have achieved your target. The Practical Lean System™ will keep your organization engaged and progressing toward your desired condition.

Lack of support from superiors and lack of buy in from subordinates and peers. The lack of support from superiors often stems from a failure to directly connect the lean activity to the balance sheet. In other cases, it is a result of disillusionment or disappointment with the results or sustainability. And in the case of support from subordinates and peers the most common reason is the use of “kamikaze lean.”

Kamikaze Lean: We often begin a lean effort by implementing (or trying to implement) tools and create a “model cell/line.” The problem with this approach is the use of the tools is random. They are not necessarily being implemented to address a problem. If the tool doesn’t solve a problem for a subordinate or peer then it’s difficult for them to understand why they should support it. It seems that many lean practitioners go into an organization with a box full of tools and say, “Here’s all the things we can do.” The failure in that thinking is that there is never a shortage of things we CAN do, but precious little thought is given to what we SHOULD do.

If, on the other hand, the lean effort is focused on real problems that everyone is aware of and plagued by, there is support by default. No one wants to suffer the same problems day after day. It is in the best interests of everyone in the organization to not only support the improvement effort but to ensure that any changes are sustained.

Lack of necessary resources (people and/or money). The causes for lack of resources are very similar to the causes for lack of support. At the initial kick-off of a lean initiative everyone is excited and counting the $$$’s. Expectations are high and management is aware of the need for people and capital. All is good with the world, until…. Problem 1 (gains not sustained) combined with Problem 2 (expectations don’t match results) lead to Problem 3 (lack of support and buy-in) and suddenly management starts thinking, “I have better ways to spend this money and use these people.” and therefore, Problem 4 (lack of resources).

Solving real organizational problems has a built in support mechanism. These are real problems, they can be quantified, they can be measured, and they can be linked to the balance sheet. The very nature of the management role compels them to address these issues. If it can be done while at the same time teaching the organization new methods of thinking and acting to ensure those problems don’t return and instilling a culture of adaptability and improvement…resources are made available.

Improvements have reached a plateau and don’t move beyond it. It’s likely that the plateau is the result of a poorly developed and/or executed lean strategy. A plateau exists because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the Toyota system. If you have been successful at embedding a culture of continuous improvement in your organization plateaus don’t happen, by definition.

You have most likely hit the plateau as a result of implementing “superficial lean.” That’s where a company has all the appearances of a lean company but without an underlying change in thinking. A lean company is one that has embedded a system to continuously improve both people and processes. Too often we see companies follow the ‘check the box’ method and after a tool is implemented or a value stream linked, they check the box and say, “Done! Now what?” Having that finish line mentality leads to plateaus, not having an improvement methodology built into your system leads to plateaus. Both of these causes can be addressed and mitigated by learning and applying the Lean Associates Practical Lean System™ within your organization.

Click here for an overview of the Practical Lean System™