The lean function, a.k.a. kaizen promotion office (KPO), operation excellence group, JIT promotion office, company (fill in the name here) lean business system office, continuous improvement office, etc., is a critical resource in any successful lean transformation effort. The KPO does and supports a bunch of necessary stuff, including: change management, people development, daily kaizen deployment, kaizen event management, lean business system curriculum development, and kaizen office management.

If that’s the case, why does leadership get the KPO so wrong, so often?

Often the root cause lies somewhere in the leadership doesn’t know what it doesn’t know region. True transformation is expansive and very, very hard.

Deploying the lean function in Seal Team 6 style, with little or no attention to the rest of lean implementation “details,” and expecting great things is fantasy stuff. Consistent with that notion, there are a bunch of ways to misapply the KPO and screw up the lean transformation. Here are eight ways, among many:

  • Skimp on staffing the lean team. A “rule of thumb” for staffing the KPO is 1%-2% of total company/site headcount. George Koenigsaecker even suggests that the KPO complement should be as much as 3% of the population. For non-lean thinkers, this seems like an outrageous misappropriation of resources.
  • Resource the lean function “late” in the transformation. This one is akin to skimping. When the KPO team is built well after the lean launch, there’s a lot catching up to do in the area of selection, training and development, and deployment. The lean function needs to be ahead of the curve, not behind it.
  • Pick the wrong folks for the group. The quality assurance guy does not necessarily always equal the KPO guy. KPO members should be selected based upon core competencies (like group leadership, change management, etc.), passion and, absent lean technical skills, lean technical aptitude. Poor selection means a lack of lean function effectiveness and, eventually, a “do-over.” Do it right the first time.
  • Abdicate lean leadership to the KPO. Leadership, while often a shared responsibility, cannot be abdicated…especially when it comes to a lean transformation. Stakeholders can smell superficial leadership a mile away. A good OpEx team will serve as effective change agents, but they can’t be the only ones. Batch-head leaders are batch-heads, even if the lean function reports to them.
  • Have the CI guys deliver all of the lean training. It’s powerful stuff when the leader learns and then trains their team in lean principles (at least the basics). When it’s all outsourced to the KPO, there’s little skin in the game.
  • Stick the OpEx team with the kaizen newspaper items. Pretty obvious here – transferring follow-through on post kaizen activity to the CI team instead of the stakeholders kills ownership, engagement and learning.
  • Turn the lean business system office into auditors. When the JIT Promotion folks serve as the routine 5S or lean assessment auditors, without stakeholder engagement, they may be seen more as “gotcha” guys, a plain nuisance, or even worse, totally inconsequential purveyors of the program of the month.
  • Hold the KPO, and only the KPO, accountable. There’s nothing like it when the lean function, and only the lean function, takes the heat for a lack of lean implementation progress. All of the other leaders quickly understand that their commitment is optional and there is always a designated scapegoat when the going gets tough.

So, what am I missing?

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