Several challenges and obstacles could impede the realization of lean systems and structures within an organization. According to a study conducted among 2000 respondents, the obstacles that were considered as having the highest impediment to the implementation of lean systems were ten. These were grouped based on their viability and ability to act as an impediment. Backsliding to the old ways (36%), collapse of previous lean methods (6%), lack of skill and knowledge (25%), slow uptake of lean systems (24%), mid level managers’ defiance for system application (21%), opposition by supervisors (10%), and disregard of a need to eject employees opposing the lean systems (18%). These percentages represent the level of influence that different obstacles have on the implementation of lean systems across different organizations.
Overcoming Obstacles to Lean Implementation
Education and Training
One of the major obstacles to change is the lack of adequate knowledge and skills to implement the constituents and demands of the change. Lean systems implementation requires a change of organizational culture, systems, and structures (Pojasek, 2003). Therefore, one of the pertinent strategies to allow for a smooth transition and acceptance of the lean implementation is the education of the employees, management, and customers on the expected changes and their positive effects towards improving organizational performance, management, and operations.
The education and training will be structured in a manner that enhances cooperation, coordination, and control of systems and structures of the perceived new organization with lean systems. However, caution should be taken to ensure that the education and training is objective and geared towards improving the organization, rather than sabotaging existing systems. This is because research shows that changes to organizational culture have adverse effects to the survival of the organization if there is a lack of effectual resources and proper management to guide this transition.
Effectual Management and Employee Empowerment
This is similar to education and training, albeit with marginal differences. Effectual management requires the management to have a shared vision with the employees and setting up systems and structures that can aid in the implementation of this vision, as related to lean systems. Additionally, the managers have to act as the ambassadors to the lean implementation to ensure that employees mimic their actions, visions, mannerisms, and behaviors. This would ensure that the actions and norms of the management and employees are synchronized towards of a single well structured and well defined vision and mission.
Employee empowerment involves the creation of systems and structures that promote cooperation, coordination, effectiveness, and productivity geared towards the achievement of a predefined objective. One of the methodologies is education and training, while others are such as exposure to good role models, setting up codes of ethics, conduct and standards, improved task allocation based on education and skills, and providing employee incentives (Hines, Holwe & Rich, 2004). Another effective strategy for promoting employee empowerment towards acceptability and implementation of the lean systems would be through effective feedback where lean implementation efforts are rewarded, while opposition is scorned and ridiculed, or stern measures taken on the particular employee(s).
Provision of Capital, Investment, and Resources
One of the biggest impediments to lean implementation is the lack of systems to foster the transition. This is occasioned by a lack of organization creating the need for lean implementation through provision of equipments, labor, and structures. All these parameters requires money for purchase of equipments, funding employee empowerment, performing education and training, and creating and designing newer systems, both operational and technological. This requires capital provision and investment into the required sectors to foster the change.
The organization should also look at ways and means of allocating resources and capital to the right sectors that would drive the lean implementation. In some cases, organizations adapt a lean implementation, provide capital for its support, receive the necessary resources, but proffer the resources to the wrong sectors that have minimal, or no impact to the lean implementation (Pius, Esam, Rajkumar & Geoff, 2006). This usually results in epic failures by the organizations that usually end up with the organization suffering losses, operational disturbances, and lower employee and management morale. Therefore, it is vital that the organization outsource the service of a professional to guide the lean implementation to enhance its transition into the organization, implementation, and acceptance within the organization.
The lean implementation is a system whose validity and success is unrivaled due to its efficacy. Its implementation across organizations in different industries has demonstrated its viability. The obstacles related to lean implementation are also many, with diverse and dynamic effects to the organization, its operations, its management, and its employees. There are myriads of methodologies that can be employed to counter and neutralize the effects and causalities of the obstacles. Some of the solutions are such as education and training of employees and senior and mid level managers, provision of capital and resources, and Effectual management and employee empowerment. However, dependence on these solutions only would prove ineffective since a multiplicity of strategies and systems have to be employed to ensure the success of the lean implementation.
Hines, P., Holwe, M. & Rich, N. (2004). Learning to evolve – A review of contemporary lean thinking. International Journal of Operations & Production Management. 24 (9-10): 994-1011.
Pius, A., Esam, S., Rajkumar R. & Geoff, N. (2006). Critical success factors for lean implementation within SMEs. Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management. 17 (4): 460-471.
Pojasek, R. B. (2003). Lean, Six Sigma, and the Systems Approach: Management Initiatives for Process Improvement. Environmental Quality Management, 13 (2):1-7.