AME: Conquering the roadblocks to acceptance of Lean

There are several strategies that can move you beyond the leaky bucket syndrome and increase confidence and value in Lean integration.


If you've engaged in any facet of Lean, then you've experienced what I call the "leaky bucket syndrome." This is the point at which, after several Lean initiatives, there appear to be holes or roadblocks to the full adoption and acceptance ofAME logo Lean. This may take any of the following forms:

  • Unfinished actions following Kaizen or other events 
  • A 5S program that does not appear to be fully accepted or adopted by employees 
  • Ongoing doubts from management around the value of lean 
  • Challenging personalities still voicing their concerns over the "real intent" of lean. 

As you progress, these types of challenges will invariably occur and often reach a point at which the champion or sponsor for lean feels like he or she is trying to plug a leaky bucket. This is the point at which most give up on Lean, which is fine if you're unwilling to stay the course. However, there are several strategies that can move you beyond the leaky bucket syndrome and increase confidence and value in lean integration.

Here are four that work extremely well at plugging the perceived holes:

Commitment over compliance

I've found it a greater challenge to attain commitment and confidence from senior management than employees during Lean adoption. In most companies, senior management does as they are asked, although sometimes grudgingly. If they don't recognize what Lean can do for them, you will be hard pressed to get their full commitment. To avoid the leaky bucket syndrome, you must have the full commitment of senior management; there is no way around it.

Rather than hold senior managers to new expectations, get them involved as champions in Lean initiatives. Better yet, hold kaizen events that serve to improve the outcomes of existing processes that affect senior management, such as employee performance management or employee objective setting.

Speed Up, Don't Slow Down

It might sound counterintuitive, but challenges arise during any full-scale change initiative, which is what Lean really represents. This does not mean it's time to slow down; in fact, it means the exact opposite. Slowing down momentum or initiatives only serves to confirm to others that things aren't going as you planned. With the proper champions and change agents in place, issues or concerns are a signal to keep going, as these are signs that the change is taking root. Don't slow down, speed up.

Celebrate being human

I've made a few mistakes in my time. Haven't you? Mistakes only serve to confirm that we are human, and they offer an opportunity to learn. Any challenges you might experience in Lean are signs that this is a journey, and as such you should be forthright about what has gone well and what has not gone well. Celebrating your successes is important, but celebrating being human and learning from mistakes is even more critical. If you try to present only roses to employees, you will eventually get a poke from a thorn.

What's your strategy?

Are you fully integrating lean into all areas of your business? Approaches like Hoshin Kanri, for example, support a robust and effective means to formulate and implement a business strategy. If Lean is to be adopted into your organization, are you considering all areas of integration? There is nothing worse than introducing a strategy, for example, that contradicts the empowerment and improvement you are targeting through Lean.

Worse yet, following a methodology that is "not value-based" goes against the objectives you are trying to achieve in lean, doesn't it? If you think lean has become a leaky bucket, don't panic. Above all, do not give up, as this is a natural occurrence when initiating transformational change. Just consider the few simple tips above and you will find continued and sustained improvement, which ultimately is the intent of Lean.

Shawn Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Company, Incorporated, a management consultancy helping organizations globally to help improve organizational performance and build financial strength. This post originally appeared on AME's Target Online Magazine. Edited by Brittany Merchut, Project Manager, CFE Media,

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