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How To Start Implementing Lean: Clarity, Focus, Discipline, and Engagement Come First

April 23, 2019

 by Renaud Anjoran

Implement Lean

Why do many Lean improvement projects fail to achieve their objectives? In good part, because the organization is held back by old habits and poor practices.


Karen Martin explains how a cracked foundation makes it very difficult to build a skyscraper, in her excellent book The Outstanding Organization: Generate Business Results by Eliminating Chaos and Building the Foundation for Everyday Excellence

The absence of the following 4 foundational behaviors make most improvement initiatives very hard:

implement lean
Clarity – what is the purpose the organization is pursuing? Does everybody know how they are performing? Is communication clear in the company?

Focus – what are the few priorities? Is everybody working on them? Do people get distracted easily by the new shiny object that came up? Have employees become sceptical of the ‘program of the month’?

Discipline – do people resist standards? Professional sports teams pay a lot of attention to getting the basics right – is if the case on the factory floor? Are problems tackled in a scientific and structured manner (PDSA, A3, 8D…), and are people trained to those approaches?

Engagement – is the company acting on the grievances of the staff, to show them their opinions are valued? Are people allowed to work on improvements and learn along the way? Is time dedicated to working on the business rather than in the business?


As I reflected on our past engagements with Chinese-owned manufacturing companies, most of our work has been centered on:

- One or several of these 4 behaviors
- Some work that involved “hard skills” and didn't aim at changing how people work – for example, setting up a planning system, improving molds, improving maintenance…

That’s why this book resonated so well with me. Martin’s 4 foundational behaviors also match rather nicely with Deming’s list of deadly diseases - What are seven deadly diseases of management? 

The book (also available as an audiobook) is fast-paced and easy to read.

For a primer, you might want to watch this Youtube video:





Does this article make sense? Are there any books you would recommend? 

Leave us a comment, or contact us if you’d like to speak to an expert.


A Sustainable Process Improvement Framework for China Factories Presentation


Renaud Anjoran

Renaud Anjoran

15 years experience in China.
Partner, China Manufacturing Consultants.
Worked with hundreds of factories in China.
Certifications: ASQ CQE & CRE; ISO 9001 & 14001 lead auditor.
Author of well-read blog, Quality Inspection Tips.

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