Lean Manufacturing Not Working for You? Here are 4 Reasons Why


All too often, manufacturers think of lean manufacturing as merely a tool that’ll guide their businesses toward faster production flow and increased profits. But lean is so much more than a tool and successfully implementing it requires a thorough understanding of how each principle within the philosophy works.

Believe it or not, a large majority of the companies that try to be lean fail. Lean implementation failure is often the result of prior failures or hitches in the way a company operates prior to adopting lean principles. Here, we’ll explore the core reasons manufacturers struggle to find a successful flow even with lean in mind.

  • Lack of Awareness. One of the biggest mistakes manufacturers make is jumping into lean too quickly and without full awareness of the company’s overall needs. The problem with doing so is that it’s essential to assess whether the company’s basic operating processes provide a solid enough foundation for lean to be successful. Without conducting an assessment of current business and production needs, it’s impossible to truly understand how lean might improve the manufacturing process or whether now is the right time to get started.
  • Company Culture. In order for lean implementation to be successful, the entire company must be on the same wavelength. Without strong objectives driving the company’s culture, any type of lean process adopted by the shop is bound to fail. When it comes to lean, building a strong foundation is the first step toward successful implementation. 
    At its core, lean is a management philosophy. And oftentimes, upper management doesn’t do enough to ensure that company culture transforms as production processes also change. Lean is a brand new way to doing things and if the company is stuck on the old way, the clash in work philosophies is going to be counterproductive.
  • Focusing on Short-Term Wins. Many manufacturers implement lean principles in an attempt to fix large scale problems in a short amount of time. This approach to lean almost always fails because it doesn’t account for the time and effort required to remedy the root of the initial problem. Plus, implementing lean is a time commitment all on its own. And this ties in closely to the lack of awareness we discussed previously. Without awareness, manufacturers tend to adopt the lean principles that seem most convenient and leave the rest which results in short term wins that don’t translate well over the long term.
  • Unstable Process Flow. Ideally, manufacturing facilities should operate at a stable process flow. Unfortunately, many facilities do not. Without stable flow there are too many variables to be aware of for lean principles to be effective. Lean relies on strong focus, foundation, and predictability. If a manufacturing process is missing any of these components, lean is simply not going to produce desirable results.

So, what should manufacturers take away from this? The key point here is that succeeding at lean really depends on how much effort is put into it. Immersive learning and trial-and-error are more likely to garner better results than haphazard implementation that aims only to achieve short-sighted wins.