Guest Post: Selling Lean to People That Don’t Want It

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.  His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.  

How to sell lean to people that don’t want it.

Here’s a disclaimer to start this one.  I’m probably not going to really answer this question.  I wrote that sentence down in my notebook and when I came back to it, I had a couple of thoughts.  First, I really don’t know that you sell Lean to people that don’t want it.  As many people much more eloquent than I have said, Lean has to be pulled, not pushed.  Maybe the pull comes at a different level of the organization than the people you may be directly dealing with at the time, but it has to be pulled to be truly Lean.   My second thought is, given the first answer, sometimes there are situations where the Lean ‘toolkit’ can give the framework to answer questions where the enterprise isn’t looking for it.  Lean can help people who don’t want Lean to help them.

What kind of situations am I talking about?  It could be several.  Maybe you are a fervent member of Lean-nation, but for whatever reason you are working for a company that has moved on from the flavor of the month or just never believed in the value of Lean.  Maybe you have a holdout area of your plant (or company) that just doesn’t want to take part because they are entrenched in the “old way” of doing things.  Maybe you have a group of people that think their jobs require too much creativity, too much variation, too much specialized skill or just aren’t in the factory and Lean can’t work for them.  I’m sure there are dozens of other reasons that Lean allegedly doesn’t apply or work for people.  What can we do?  Here are some thoughts.

  • Focus on the local area you are working with.  If people aren’t interested (or aren’t capable) of seeing things from a big picture view, don’t waste time trying to paint the picture they don’t want to see.  Sometimes trying to paint too big of a picture just muddies the message anyway.
  • Find ways to strip the lingo out and meet people with the verbiage that they need.  Words like kaizen, takt time, single piece flow, waste elimination and even Lean itself can bring confusion or carry stigmas that get in the way of the solutions they can provide.  Spend a few minutes trying to create a description of Lean and even individual tools that don’t use any of the familiar words and phrases.  Try those descriptions out next time people aren’t interested.
  • Always remember that Lean implementation is about solving problems to meet goals.  Just because Lean Thinking didn’t create the goals, doesn’t mean that Lean Thinking can’t help reach them.  The people you are working with may not be interested in the intricacies of A3 reporting or a PDCA cycle, but they can tell you what the process should look like.  There you go…the beginning of a gap problem statement before they even know what hit them.  If they don’t know what the ‘ideal’ or goal state is, you can start the dialog there by working on painting a picture of how it should be.
  • Be willing to take small steps.  Or, put another way, accept the small victories as they come.  It’s human nature (at least in the U.S.) to feel like we control our own destiny and we have a tendency to reject other people’s plans for us.  That can be fine.  Sometimes people don’t need to buy in to the whole future vision up front.  Remove one thorn at a time that is irritating them and move on to the next one.  Small steps over time can add up to big gains.  The adding up of the small victories helps build on the relationship that can let you move on to big swings later on.

Is this a roadmap?  Absolutely not, nor is it intended to be.   I just hope it can lay out some different thoughts in how to get past some obstacles.  They won’t always work, but there isn’t always a blueprint to get where we are going.  Are there any tricks and tips that you have to add to the list?

Posted on July 8, 2011, in Guest Post, Leadership, Problem Solving and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Wrong Question. Presupposes people don’t want lean. Every single human being will tell you that they want reduced costs, faster cycle times, and better quality out of their operations.

  2. Hi;
    This is a response using some info from

    (Steps taken from Selling Lean at

    Selling process – good sales person vs. a good engineer or why do I need to be a sales person. Why can’t I just be a good Lean engineer ? This is a lot easier if you have the numbers to show/prove what you do helps the client and by how much and how it fits in with their other changes. Be the engineer not the sales person.

    1. Identify customers: answer, VPs of Sales and Manufacturing + CFO and CEO. The metric will explain why these people are involved.

    2. What is the Value Proposition: The metric is short but not simple: Sales Volume vs. Order response time for the factory where it is now and where it is after the changes.

    (missing graph here) X axis is SALES VOLUME, Y axis is Sales Order Response time/MCT As volume increases MCT increases until you approach 100% utilization and then it does a hockey stick thing and goes up to infinity.

    3. Goes directly to business strategy (vs. Lower cost – longer delivery competition) => why you need top level people because they are the only ones thinking at this level.

    4. Problem is getting from Lean details to this high level – Tools called Big Picture Lean do the translation from capacity, demand, process time and routing details to the big picture of Manufacturing Critical-path Time MCT or Sales Order response time.

    5. Getting holy water (contact
    a. What Is the Brand and Who Influences It? (QRM, MPX, VSModel)
    b. What (True) Story Can You Tell? (Case studies, Paul E blog, White House conf., MEPs, UW )
    c. Who Are the New Lean Evangelists and How Do We Engage Them In Promoting Our Cause? (MEPs, Paul E blog)

    6. Managing expectations: knowing what you promised (top level and detailed level) and what you can deliver and the ultimate results before you start. See 2-4 above. If you promise some final results you can translate those into the Lean results you must deliver to get those final results. There is no “managing expectations” just delivering on what you promised at the detailed level.

    7. Sales experiment: testing the relationship between detailed level and final metric. Do the tools match with the experience of the VPs of Sales and manufacturing + shop floor supervision? Discuss what they want, what you can do and then show how to get from the details to the final results.

    8. Call to Action: Getting the VPs to do the horse trading to get everyone happy. Get the specific goals for the Lean projects (numbers and deliverables). Get people to think about how to change the shop floor to get the volume vs. response time curve where they want it with contingency plans in place.

    This is a way to get people not to “hear Lean and roll their eyes”. Do a little/lot of Dale Carnegie and talk about something they are or ought to be interested in. (volume vs. MCT Sales impact on customers ? Manufacturing ? ). Then once you have the big goals you can work out what you have to do in Lean steps to get to those big objectives…

    Greg Diehl

  1. Pingback: Il meglio della blogosfera lean #97

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