There are several organizations, professionals and articles that have focused on failures of lean enterprise and management standards, such as ISO9001. Even though this is nothing new they do cause organizations to resist the implementation.

The biggest issue behind the failure is that organizations use the methodology to reduce body count instead of taking work out. The organizations that use lean to attack body count and reduce cost as their primary focus usually fail. They increase the three F’s: Fear, Frustration, and Failure within their organization. It is important to point out that lean enterprise contains a toolbox that can be abused. How many times does someone use a pair of pliers to remove a bolt when a socket or crescent wrench would be a better tool for the job? When the improper tool is used the bolt head is damaged and normally needs to be replaced, or the bolt is not seated properly, and the assembly has premature failure. The tools in our lean enterprise toolbox all have this vulnerability and management systems are not exempt.

A management system such as ISO9001, when implemented and deployed properly, provides the organization with predictable and consistent processes. This is also a critical component for the success of lean enterprise. If an organization makes change on a process that is not predictable then how do they know what to change? This is also a major reason for not having success with lean enterprise. Organizations make changes in the middle of a process but a large portion of their issues are with the inputs. Thus, the change has a high probability of actually making the process worse.

This is also experienced by the organization that wants the certificate on the wall, but does not apply the resources. Procedures or work instructions may be written but either no one is following them or they are not the best practice. The other side of the coin is that companies standardize to paralyze. This creates a system of over control and the loss of properly responding to abnormal situations. This occurs because the organization forgets one critical component: we must allow workers to be reactive and creative.

Examples of over control are multiple page procedures or numerous procedures in a work area. During a recent audit a process had one operator but 42 procedures posted in the work area. The user viewed it as wallpaper instead of as a tool to assist them in performing their tasks consistently. The same operator had 13 different forms to complete along with inputting similar data into a computer each shift. When asked why they were capturing all this information the organization indicated that the management system made them do it. This response is an incorrect interpretation of the requirements. The management system requirements provide a foundation on what records are to be created. It does not prescribe a level of control. An organization defines the level of control just as it defines how lean enterprise is implemented and managed within the organization. If it is used improperly then the expected results should not be surprising.

An effective management system and lean enterprise require a cultural change. Management is required to share the power. An empowered workforce is creative for lean enterprise effectiveness while the workforce utilizing the management system is always seeking the best practice. This culture change and power sharing replaces “I” with “We.” When we only look out for ourselves and work in a bubble we do not look at a process as a series of inputs or outputs but as only our small piece of the world. Both lean enterprise and management systems that are properly implemented have one key component, they are dynamic systems. You don’t see procedures written 15 years ago still being the primary methods followed.

What drives lean enterprise or a management system is “results.” Just like the Malcom Baldrige Award, a world class organization will be identified not by how many kaizen events or procedures but in the results. I totally agree to stop conducting lean enterprise or a management system if you do not get results. But, it is not the methodologies that failed, it was the deployment. The methodology is proven, but if an organization did not have results prior to their implementation and still does not have results, the problem is much deeper than the improper implementation of lean enterprise or management systems.