While there are many things that can constitute a Lean pitfall, there are three main pitfalls to be wary of.
1. Rules before Tools!
Lean tools are powerful aids to improvement. However, you must first understand Lean thinking and learn the key Lean principles before using the tools. This is the only way you will be able to select the correct tool (of the hundreds available) for your application, and know how to correctly use the tool in your environment. Lean is not a tool, or collection of tools, it is not a tactic or simple cost-reduction program; it is a way of thinking and acting for an entire organization.
You must create an enterprise-wide customer-focused learning organization to be successful in creating a long-term, sustainable Lean organization. You don’t get “Lean” or get “Leaned out.” Lean is not a destination – Lean is a journey. The learning process is the key to process improvement and the key to Lean. This is the one thing you must know to be successful in your Lean journey. If you do not figure out how to do your job better, then your competitors will.
2. Intention/Action Disparity
Key systems or people can sometimes provide roadblocks to the success of the Lean program in an organization. Typically, this pitfall boils down to interpersonal issues.
One example of this pitfall would be an organization where a handful of departments have adopted Lean methodology, but other areas have not. This can stymie the progress the Lean-oriented departments are striving towards. Another example of this might be an organization with political or leadership issues. If a leader at an organization acts in opposition to the Lean strategies, or behaves in a way that builds roadblocks to the progress of those strategies, the Lean program will fail.
The key to avoiding this pitfall is to ensure that all members in the organization are invested in the success of the Lean methods being implemented. This includes the organization’s leadership.
3. Sustaining Lean Methodologies
Even when organizations overcome the first two pitfalls, it is very difficult to implement and sustain a culture change that spans the entirety of the organization. This pitfall might not be immediately evident, especially because many of the systems and processes might be running well.
This pitfall most often affects organizations who decide to identify and train a few subject matter experts rather than investing in the whole organization to sustain the Lean culture. When a subject matter expert turns over, Lean systems start to break down. When organization leaders do not take the time to invest in developing the organization’s desire to improve, the Lean journey will start to lose momentum.
This pitfall is a constant battle for companies who make it to this point. It often leads to ebbs and flows in work management and system sustainability.
The only way to avoid this pitfall is for every member of the organization to feel invested in the Lean journey. This means accepting the fact that the Lean journey is a continuous development and learning process, and embracing the work that comes with it.
Walsh, Darren. “Identifying the Common Pitfalls of Lean Transformation and Change.” The Lean Enterprise Academy,