It is sometimes argued that you cannot “implement” Lean. It is criticized as suggesting that becoming a Lean organization is done in a single discrete step. It may give the impression that it is something that is done by “others”, and that Lean is imposed upon the rest of the organization by these “others”. And that “implementing” hints at a focus on only the tools of Lean. But does this mean that when some speak of implementing Lean, they are completely wrong? That they are “tool heads”? I think the reality is somewhat more nuanced. A post about implementing, transforming, deploying, copying, and adapting as part of becoming Lean.
Personally, I think sneering at the expression of “implementing” Lean is somewhat populist (like what sometimes happens with the word “expert” In Lean circles). “Implementing” simply means to put a decision, plan, agreement, etc. into effect. It does not imply the magnitude of the plan or decision, that it is done without the required involvement of all, or that it is accomplished in a single discrete step in a relatively short time frame, and with a clear end time in mind.
In that sense, implementing Lean may just mean that an organization has decided to start with their Lean journey, fully conscious that it is not a matter of just getting some whiteboards in place, kanban cards printed and laminated, and andon lights installed. Or it may just indicate that an organization is actively progressing and doing those things that move them forward on their Lean journey. I think, more often than not, that we are underestimating general managers. I am not saying there aren’t maybe some that think Lean is only about some tools, but not the majority.
Another word often used in Lean circles is “deployment”. Deploying is about arranging resources in such a way that they are ready for use. But in Lean it may also be used in the sense of expanding and spreading Lean across the organization, or specific policies or standards.
In that respect, Lean practices such as “Hoshin Kanri” or policy deployment, and “Yokoten” or horizontal deployment immediately come to mind. It would be strange, as such, to object to the use of the word “deployment” in the context of Lean. “Hoshin Kanri” translates the company vision and strategic goals into objectives at every level of the organization, and at the same time it translates the policies and means to realize the company vision into initiatives, projects and actions at the same respective organizational levels. And “Yokoten” involves the peer-to-peer exchange of ways of working by actually going to see for yourself, studying the practice (and the thinking that has led to it), taking it back to your own area, and adapting it your own environment. You can even safely say that what most organizations are doing is a form of Yokoten anyway…
Deployment in the Yokoten sense, as you can see, also implies studying, learning, (partial) copying, and adapting. It also demonstrates that it is a developmental activity (requiring coaching by supervisors and managers), and involving the people, instead of imposing copying of exact details of procedures and tools used elsewhere.
Sure, transforming means changing. And becoming Lean implies change. In fact, many changes. Changes in physical layouts, changes in working methods, requiring different tools, templates, and in general, means. And changes in what is typically seen as the most difficult type of change to realize: changes in behavior, reflexes, and thinking.
Transformation is a word typically used to indicate changes in those things, already existing. But less so in case when new things need to be created. Implementing or deploying Lean will therefore not only require change (both in “hard” and “soft” aspects of a current organization), but also creating new things; things that did not exist beforehand. And that may even lead to, or at least facilitate and support the required transformation.
Don’t Make A Fuss: It’s OK To Implement
From the perspective presented in this post, interestingly enough, implementation can even be seen as a larger concept than transformation. Implementation requires both transformation of the existing, and creation of the new. And deployment can very well be seen as a tactic in implementing Lean; a tactic that most probably involves both transformation and creation as well.
But nowadays, it seems more fashionable to speak about transformation, maybe because this part of any Lean implementation (in its correct sense) can be easily considered the hardest part. Or maybe because it is the effect of many change-oriented consultants jumping the Lean bandwagon over the last decades. Or inversely, that it is the result of the more technical and industrial engineering (IE) oriented Lean consultants that became increasingly conscious over time that there was more to Lean than what meets the eye.
In any case, let’s not make such a fuss about the words. What is more important to me, is the thought-world of the people I speak with. So, don’t take offense so quickly, but invest your time in understanding the way of thinking of your interlocutor, and share yours.