Why is failure a good thing when implementing Lean principles?
Yeah right, so you’re telling me that I need to fail to succeed when implementing Lean principles? I know. You’re thinking this is the most stupid thing you’ve ever heard! In fact, that is exactly what I am saying. Without failure, there is no chance for improvement. First, we need to define the word failure to make sure we are on the same page. What is a failure?
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary the definition of a failure is:
“Omission of occurrence or performance; specifically: a failure to perform a duty or expected action.
Take a moment to understand this definition of a failure. It is an “omission of occurrence or performance.” So, what does this really mean? It can be interpreted as saying that something didn’t happen when it was supposed to. The next part of the definition says this, “a failure to perform a duty or expected action.” Again, this means that something that was supposed to occur at a given time did not happen. In other words, an action was not executed or completed to meet defined expectations. So, why is this important?
The general perception of failure is that it’s a bad thing, and it should never happen. However, is this viewpoint realistic? Can we ever achieve a state where there is no failure? Absolutely not! If there was no failure, how would we learn from our mistakes and make improvements? It is not always pretty, especially when it affects the environment, lives, etc. Without failure, the human race would not have developed technologies to overcome many problems. Existence relies on failure because this gives us an opportunity to find ways to make something better and to reduce the chances of it reoccurring. So, you’re probably thinking what has this got to do with implementing lean principles? Well, it has a lot to do with it.
5S Lean Principles
The truth is that failure, and lean principles go hand in hand. They are basically the two sides of the same coin. One cannot occur without the other. To be successful when implementing lean principles into your company, you need to fail and do it often! Seriously, I hope you “fail” time and time again during your lean implementation. Shocking right? How can I say this to you? I am supposed to be a Lean expert, and my job is to help people to succeed. Here’s why I want you to fail and be happy about it. Failure is the feedback you get from a system to tell you that something is not working. Failure is simply another word for performance results. In fact, someone once said, “There are no failures, only results.” If you can change your thinking to accept failure as nothing more than a result, you realize that you can influence the outcome. However, you may not like the result but using lean principles you can change the process to create a better result.
Implementing lean principles with the guidance of a lean expert:
Failure is necessary for learning. We are told that we must learn and try to become an expert or specialist in a specific subject. Why do we need to do this? It’s because we want to get it right the first time and not make a mistake. Ok, a reality check is needed here! How many people do you know that can learn about something and then apply it without ever making a mistake or failing? Honestly, how many perfect people can you think of right now? You got it, zero, none, nada! How many organizations do you know that can implement a new system such as lean principles without experiencing any problems? Again, its zero, none of them! Even with the guidance of a lean expert there is going to be growing pains and problems along the way.
There is not one person, group or organization on this planet that did not go through a learning curve when they applied their knowledge and tried to make something happen in a different way. Lean implementation is no different. It is a journey of discovery that involves watching, listening, doing and learning. Learning about lean principles is only part of the process. It is the preparation a person, group or organization must have, so they know how to start their journey to reach the destination. Implementing lean principles into any business is a process of learning by doing or converting knowledge into action. This involves people collaborating together to find new methods of working and putting these into practice. However, when you put people together, they must be looking at the same roadmap and heading towards the same destination.
Everybody needs a common goal to work towards when implementing lean principles. So the question is; “Why do you want to implement lean principles?” The next question should be; “Are you willing to see failure as a positive learning experience rather than a negative condition of doing business?” Performance is based on results; these can be tracked to determine if they are following a positive or negative trend. Lean principles teach us that the feedback we receive by tracking performance results is the driving force behind continuous process improvement. To manage anything we must be able to measure it, then track and trend the results.
Without measurement, we do not know if we are being consistent. If we cannot measure a process, then we enter a world of failure with the root cause unknown, and this is nothing more than chaos. When failure can be measured it brings with it understanding (or insight), and this puts you one step closer to achieving success. Insight gives a person, group or organization the ability to define a strategy to create change and improve a process. When the strategy is executed, the outcome creates results and feedback. We can take this feedback and evaluate it to determine if there is a need for countermeasures and adjust the strategic initiatives.
What is the one thing that separates a business, which successfully implemented lean principles from one that was unsuccessful? It is the way they perceive failure and how they deal with it. A successful lean business will see failure as an opportunity for improvement. They will use it to drive their continuous process improvement, and they will use problem solving tools to identify and eliminate the root causes of waste. One by one, they discover and deal with their failures and try to correct them until they reach their tipping point. When they achieve this, they will experience a cultural shift to where lean principles are integrated into their everyday activities. There is no separation between work activities and continuous improvement. As employees perform their daily tasks, they are empowered to look for ways to improve their workplace.
On the other hand, a business that is or has been unsuccessful when trying to implement lean principles does not see failure as an opportunity. They see it as a kind of natural disorder, which occurs as a consequence of doing business. It is something they have to endure and the way they overcome it is by working harder to eliminate it. The sad thing is that these types of companies are doomed to making the same mistakes repeatedly. Albert Einstein said this “The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again expecting different results.” These types of companies labor under the belief that thinking of change is the same as physically implementing change. It is not. Talking and not taking action is nothing more than playing mind games (or fluff). Remember, actions speak louder than words!
Failure when implementing lean principles is a natural phenomenon and to be successful we must embrace it. We must develop the confidence in our abilities to participate in the process, and find a solution to any problem. It requires the discipline to follow through, and know that you and the team members did your best. And most important, know that you all learned something. The question should never be, “does this work?” It should be “I wonder how many more steps before we reach the tipping point” where lean principles become fully integrated. So to anyone who has failed, and continued on to find the answer, I acknowledge you! It means you are that much closer to successfully implementing lean principles into your organization.
Lean Expert and Coach:
Chris Turner is the founder and Director of Training and Development for Radical Transformation LLC. He has 28 years of experience in the Continuous Process Improvement field. During this time, he has integrated Lean Principles, Lean Six Sigma and Change Management into his skill’s portfolio. He has worked with major organizations in the UK, USA and Canada such as the US Air Force, Canadian Ministry of Health, Siemens, Medtronic, APW, English China Clay to name a few. He participated in the design and development of Lean Certification Online, which allows learners to have 24/7 access to online lean training materials. To learn more click here