I recently solicited the opinions of lean implementers regarding the progress they have made and the importance of what I felt were key factors when implementing lean culture or management. The individuals who responded were either those who read my own blog, those who participate on the NWLean Yahoo discussion forum, or members of the Lean/Six Sigma LinkedIn forum. It is safe to say that all of these individuals are engaged in the process of implementing lean, either as an internal change agent or an external consultant. A total of 82 individuals completed the survey.

To download the complete report please go to my “Papers, Etc.” page and click on the report to download a PDF file that presents my analysis of the data. You can also download the complete data set if you like.

How can you use this data? All of those who implement lean practices are in the business of influencing, convincing or changing the behavior of both managers and employees. I think this data can be helpful in making the case for changes in behavior and practices that are essential to lean implementation.

Who are the participants in the survey? 63% work in the manufacture of “things”; while 9.3% are in chemical or liquid manufacturing. Only 2 were in healthcare and only one was in sales or marketing. 25% were in service organizations.

All surveys simply report the perceptions of those taking the survey, rather than some absolute measure. The pursuit of “lean” is often described as a journey. I felt it was worthwhile to ask where these practitioners perceived their organizations to be on their journey.  It turns out that they have a fairly humble view of their progress. About sixty percent felt that they were no more than 25% of the way on that journey.

One of my own biases is to view the lean journey as containing two parallel tracks:  the technical track of modifying factory layout, inventory processes, and other technical aspects of the work; and, the social track – all of the issues around the engagement, motivation and management of people. I asked the participants whether they felt they had made more progress on the technical or social aspects of lean implementation. Thirty one percent reported that they “have made little progress on either.” Twenty seven percent said they had made significant progress on the technical side, but little progress on the culture, while only 12.5% felt that the reverse was true. Almost thirty percent felt that they had made equal progress on both the technical and social sides of lean.

Progress on Technical vs. Social


I then asked which would be most important in the coming year or two. Only 7.3% felt that progress on the technical side would be most important. 45% felt that progress on the social side would be most important and 50% said they would be equally important. (Note: I do realize that those percentages don’t exactly add up! But that is the way SurveyMonkey reported them.)







Which Factors Are Most Important?

Factor                                                                                    Importance               Execution

Creating a sense of purpose (5)                                                            89                    53.4
Managers have instilled a spirit of teamwork (53)                          84.4                 50
Promoting strong values  (7)                                                                83.8                 54
Leaders are effective at engaging team members (13)                    83.5                 49.4
Leaders have created employee empowerment (15)                       83.5                 47.2
High trust between employees and managers  (17)                        83.2                 44.8
Leaders act with urgency (9)                                                               82.7                 52.2
Managers focus on improving the process (31)                               80.6                 47.2

Which Factors Are Most Deficient in Execution?

Now let’s look at the items that got the lowest scores for how well they were executed or performed in the organization.  Again, this is entirely arbitrary, but we will take scores below 45 as a cutoff.

Factor                                                                                            Execution       Importance

Managers have defined leader standard work (63)                          30.8                 67.9
Most manager engage in disciplined problem solving (11)             36.6                 72.6
Managers are able to follow a disciplined PS model (61)                38.3                 76.6
Every employee is a member of a team (57)                                       39.9                 75.6
Managers can show a visual map of their processes (35)                40                    66.6
Managers are competent at motivating employees (21)                  41.8                 79.7
Feedback from customers to employees (25)                                    43.4                 70.4
Managers are competent at facilitating meetings (59)                    43.5                 73.7
Each team has defined their customers (27)                                      44.1                 71.6
There is high trust between employees and managers (17)            44.8                 83.2
Managers are good at motivating employees (47)                            44.9                 77.8

One of the more interesting set of factors, in my opinion were the comparison between performance and importance for the two items (19) “Managers are highly competent in the technical work for which they are responsible;” and (21) “Managers are well trained and competent at motivating and developing employees.”

Click on the following images for a better view.

There is a lot more data and analysis in the full report that you will find on the “Papers” page. You are welcome to download this and you may use the data as you wish, and do your own analysis.

For myself, it reinforces the need for managers to “be the change” by practicing the methods of lean culture personally. It also points to serious training needs in regard to problem solving and motivating employees. One of the greatest concerns in this data is the poor rating of trust between managers and employees. However, this may be explained by the other data. If managers are not practicing what they preach, this alone will lead to low trust.

I welcome any different interpretations or suggestions for future surveys of lean practitioners.