The Secret Sauce: Start Simple

The Secret Sauce: Start Simple

By Michelle Whiteside; Brasfield & Gorrie LLC, Ryan Nagle; Envise & Katie Wells; Brasfield & Gorrie LLC

You’ve been to a conference, you drank the Kool-Aid, and now you’re ready for your organization to start getting down with this whole Lean thing. It all sounds so great—in theory. Putting new practices into action is challenging and can feel like a daunting undertaking. But you can do this! The key is to start small, keep it simple, and implement a few practical applications to help steer you in the right direction.

In our experience, there are three fundamentals to building a strong Lean culture: support from leadership, experienced coaches and facilitators, and time to allow the momentum to build.

It starts at the top.

Leadership support doesn’t necessarily mean complete buy-in on all things Lean. In fact, in most cases, it won’t be. But top-down support, at least in what the idea of transformation could look like, will allow efforts to progress more rapidly than a completely grassroots approach. Although many senior leaders will lack real-life experience in implementing Lean practices, their ability to cast a vision will empower and inspire employees to embrace a culture of continuous improvement. For example, start by getting buy-in on holding lessons learned and reflection events (like a retrospective). Have a key leader encourage participation so that employees are more apt to attend and engage. Or do one better and ensure that someone from leadership attends the event—an added bonus that will immediately foster credibility.

Don’t skip coaching.

Step two, coaching is key! Your first experience with Lean is like a first impression. It can leave you feeling excited and empowered or make you want to run screaming for the hills. Identify an outside coach or someone internal to your organization who’s skilled at facilitating groups and has some experience in Lean thinking and ask this person to facilitate a session. A facilitator takes pressure off the team, allowing them to engage as participants, and provides an objective viewpoint. For instance, a retrospective requires little to no prep from the team, other than their time and a commitment to come prepared to engage. During a retrospective, a dynamic facilitator will work the room by asking thoughtful questions and directing conversation out of problem-solving mode and into reflection mode. Asking questions like “What went well, where are our improvement opportunities, what would we change next time?” leaves the team with tangible takeaways. Boom! You’ve just snuck Lean thinking into a team who is going to walk away feeling reenergized and ready to improve.

We all walk before we run.

So, the retrospective went great, but what happens next? Well, people start talking and the demand begins to rise. Good experiences are shared and others will want to get in on the action. Small but successful, targeted efforts, like the retrospective, coupled with a team-building event can give you the leverage you need to push for implementing additional Lean tools. With each positive experience you’ll begin to see a shift in perspectives which leads to a shift in the culture. It won’t happen overnight, but you’ll see the momentum begin to build.

Lean principles are simple when you break them down, so when you feel discouraged or overwhelmed, remember to stay the course and keep it simple!

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Check out our presentation from the 2020 LCI Congress for specific examples of how we’ve implemented Lean tools to transform our organizations.

Save the Date for 2021 Congress, October 19-22, Phoenix, Arizona and link to the 2021 Congress page. Event information: