7 keys to implement Lean




7 Keys to Implement Lean


I would like to give you some recommendations (or keys), based on my experience, to implement Lean (Kaizen, Continuous Improvement…) in your organisations and try  for them to stay for a long time.

My recommendations are:

  1. Teams
  2. Teams support and infrastructure
  3. Goals (for everyone)
  4. Visual Management
  5. Communication
  6. Problem Solving
  7. Leadership and discipline

As you will understand, as you read, the keys must be together. Each of them separately, do not guarantee the result… we need to work all of them at the same time.

But do not get discouraged about it. It is better to know it, than keep making the same mistakes we have done trying it.

Teams. Lean Key 1

First key to implement Lean is The TEAM. However, what is a TEAM?


“A team is a small number of people, with complementary skills, who are committed to common purpose, and a set of specific performance goals” John Katzenbach


One of the most important words of the definition is small. A team cannot consist of 20 or 30 people. A team should be between 5 or 8 people. Working in Ford, I learned the rule 1-6-6-6..

There are still many organisations that work with tooth-comb kind structures: One person has several employees who depend on him.  Is this a team? How can the leader even know them? How can this person track the performance of each of them? Honestly, I don´t believe that a group of 15 or 30 people can make a Team.

It is necessary, for the good performance of a (small) team, to create intermediate leading figures, team leaders, teams organisers, spokesperson (the name is important) without creating more (sectors, layers..) in the organisation.

Structure and Teams Support. Key Lean 2

The second key to implement Lean is the Organisational Structure and the Support we have to offer to Teams.

The bad news about Key 1 is that teams “on their own” do not have future, and I am talking about the ones which add value

Without the help of the rest of the company they wouldn’t advance.

That´s why they talk about the inverted pyramid, (Pero not just saying it!! This is the real “cultural change”. The whole organisation starts working, day by day, to work and help the team members to achieve their goals.



Goals. Lean Key 3


The third key to implement lean are the Goals. However, remember, you have to take into account the previous keys 1 & 2.

All the teams, that means the people, have to have goals to achieve, otherwise, What are they working for? How do we know if their work is what we need?.

At this point, I would like to comment different aspects:

  • We have to chase the goals daily, shift by shift. Follow the goals weekly or monthly is not enough. We have to live them daily (every hour), we have to make the get to know them, to make them commit to the goals. In that way, we will be able to get them involved.
  • SMART: remember that the goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Result-Oriented, Time-Limited
  • Intertwined: Everybody, from the top to the floor of the company must we involved in each other’s goals. Example: Purchasing goals vs line efficiency


Goals. Lean Key 4

The fourth key to implement Lean is Visual management. It is necessary to show the problems, to show the truth.

If we have teams make their results visible, but not just to show “how good we are”, but on the contrary, to show the problems, because they are the basis to improve! And to show the defects (not to achieve goals is a defect)




Communication. Lean Key 5

The fifth key to implement lean is Communication. People need to feel part of the team. It is important that they know and follow the goals, and that they can identify the problems, but to solve them too! If not… it doesn´t make sense

For that purpose, we have the quick and structured meetings (TOP 5, 5 minutes meetings, weekly interdepartmental meetings, daily Direction Team meetings, etc.

Communication is a key tool to keep the employees involved (listen to them), know today´s problems, yesterday’s problems, and to solve them. To make employees part of the results and for them to understand if they have achieved the goals or not, or how their work affects to the achievement of goals.


Problem Solving. Lean Key 6.

The sixth key to implement Lean is Problem Solving.

PDCA, Quick Kaizen, A3, choose any methodology that you like, but choose one that everybody can use. Nothing difficult!!

You will agree with me that all the previous, (keys 1 to 5) don´t make sense if we can´t solve our problems.

Can you imagine changing the culture of your company, and that you could see the problems as opportunities to improve? This will only happen if you solve the problems forever!


Leadership and Disipline. Lean Key 7.


The seventh key to implement Lean and often, the most forgotten is Lean Leadership and discipline.

Let me remind you the acronym I normally use to refer to Lean leadership or leandership (you can read my article about it : http://www.adumconsulting.com/lean/?lang=en

L- Listening (the most important for being a good leader)

E- Example (lead with the example)

  • Attitude (positive attitude)

N- Natural (*)

D- Development (commitment of self-development and to develop others)

E- Excellence (look for it)

R-Risilience (never give up)

S- Sorround (with the best)

H- Humbleness (as important as the rest or even more)


P- Purpose (firm commitment)

(*) the N is on my own, but it makes sense for me.


Leaders (and managers) have to evolve themselves, they have to make their people grow and all those other things:


  • Manage the team. It is essential that a leader:
  • Knows the team
  • Provide feedback to the team
  • Coach and teach the team
  • Listen to them
  • Appreciate their work (good also)


  • Invest time to work for the Improvement

Until the day we achieve a culture where in our day to day we can incorporate, as an habit, the time for thinking, the leader has to provide it for the team to work.

We don´t need someone external to do it. External people are good to implement methodologies, to energise, to help, but people need time and means.

  • Live day to day in “the Gemba”

Computers and offices are ok, but for not knowing what is really happening.  You have to be in the day to day, know and live the problems. Don´t let others tell you about them!


  • To practice PDCA- Problem Solving

Not only “others”, We all have to practice the problem solving. Leadership is lead by example. If leaders don´t do it, How can we ask the rest to do so?

  • To check standards

Leaders have to commit in the following of the standards (ways of working). Normally people only “study when an examination is close… that´s why a leader must “examine” every day the people´s work, at least until things are done well.

To finish, let me give you a sentence by Yokoi Kenji Díaz

“Sooner or later, discipline will overcome intelligence”

I don´t know if after this post you see (or not) the possibility of starting in the world of Continuous Improvement easier or not. It would be great if you could share your experiences, I still have a lot to learn.