Colin Thompson takes a look at how a lack of management commitment to change and a failure to hold a compelling vision of the future with their employees is holding back global mature print manufacturers when they attempt to make a move towards `lean manufacturing`. 


Addressing the attitude and behaviour of an organisation – in addition to the operating system and management infrastructure – could boost production by at least 20%, and improve stock, lead times, quality and capacity. Therefore organisations with skilled and experienced people of any age and training programmes with business models will be the winners.


There are at least 12 major pitfalls which companies must avoid benefiting from making the journey to lean production.


The pitfalls are:


  • Lack of management commitment
  • Lack of share division and objectives
  • Failure to lead by example
  • Initiative fatigue
  • Constant fire fighting
  • Employees` lack of understanding
  • Middle management not engaged
  • Stagnation after pilot
  • Failure in deployment
  • Lack of clarity over the future state of the organisation
  • Failure to build on a change which has been achieved


The understanding of Managing the `Management of Change`

All too often failure to make a lean transformation stems from a superficial, piecemeal approach. Lean manufacturing requires a holistic approach transforming not just the technical production system but also the organisations management systems and a comprehensive approach to change which addresses mindsets and behaviours as well as formal processes and structures.


Most common faults are a lacklustre approach to change by a divided or uncommitted senior management and unwillingness to properly consult and communicate with the workforce. This is why some European companies claim to have tried and failed to implement lean production systems. Communication, communication of the requirement and a `buy-in` programme by `all` people is necessary for change to be successful.


Lean manufacturing is now almost universally regarded as a panacea for European print manufacturers (also, all UK manufacturing) to improve productivity but, UK owned manufacturing companies are typically less productive than their UK-based, US - owned competitors.


A McKinsey & Company study showed that an average of US manufacturing companies deliver a 22% annual return on capital. While UK companies return only 7.6%! (before the recession).


McKinsey & Company experience reveals that middle management and front-line staff are adept at spotting half-hearted support for production process improvements and adopt a `just-enough` attitude to tide them over until the effort is abandoned. Also, senior management (Directors) were complacent to act due to lack of knowledge of `management of change` process.


A typical scenario might be of a UK company undertaking a lean programme. But, sooner or later, after considerable diversion of company resources, they admit defeat and settle for a few small improvements here and there rather than a lasting and marked performance improvement. This type of company will not survive.


Having seen the `writing on the wall` for their business before being spurred into a lean transformation attempt, such businesses frequently join the list of statistical failures.


A lack of a `shared` vision headed the list of failures

Alignment around `shared` objectives must begin with the `top` team and cascade through the organisation. It must also be seen to go hand-in-hand with visible commitment by `all` Directors/Senior Management so those staff sees their `leaders` are serious about change and play a full part themselves.


Middle management are very good at spotting lack of commitment and respond in kind by supplying just the amount of effort they judge expedient until the latest initiative withers and dies. People know what they are expected to say and duly say it. But, it is meaningless if they are just going through the motions. Again, this type of company will not survive.


Failing to lead by example resulted in middle managers and production staff failing to `get onside`.


This most often happens where senior management is `out of touch` with all the employees. Top management must get close to the reality of the `people` to understand the issues the frontline staff are living with, and then take the lead to resolve them as part of the `change process`.


At the same time, management need to be aware of initiative fatigue, the `been there, done that, did not work` attitude. Change targets must be precise and stretching, but realistic and some early successes will galvanise the rest of the effort.


The tendency to fire fight constantly must be stifled and while some managers thrive on fire fighting and build a successful career on it, this only deals with symptoms and not with `long-term solutions`.


Just telling employees what to do is not enough. They must be involved at all levels in solving issues in the change process. All staff expect to see their line managers directing change, so these middle managers must be engaged from the outset.


Even when a successful pilot implementation is over, there are still several more pitfalls to trap the unwary. One is stagnation following a successful pilot as the focus shifts away. Another is the failure to deploy lean manufacturing to the wider business. Never stop looking to improve.


Lean manufacturing requires a holistic approach transforming not just the technical production system but also the company’s management system and a `comprehensive` approach to change which addresses mindsets and behaviours as well as formal processes and structures.


The `right` trained and skilled and experienced `People` manage companies and these will be the winners in the future.