Skip to main content


The Turmoils of Transformation

23 July 2014

As a lean specialist, I’m in the business of business transformation. Applying a lean approach can provide an organisation with a great ethos, structure and the necessary tools and techniques within which to enable positive change, but experience has proved that often intent, knowledge and energy are simply not enough. A number of organisational factors often conspire to limit the success of a transformation programme. The Lean Enterprise Research Centre has, for some years, investigated why business transformation attempts have failed and what enablers can be put in place in order to prevent failure. John Lucey, who worked for Boots Pharmaceutical company at the time, completed his PhD at Cardiff Business School by examining the reasons why lean’s success was limited within his organisation. A published output from his research provided us with a “Top Ten Reasons for Lean Failure”. I find this list immensely useful as it acts as a checklist to work through before you attempt any type of transformation – for each point, ask yourself “Will we suffer from this problem? Have we tackled this issue head on? What enablers do we need to put in place in order to ensure that this won’t be a problem?”

1. Lack of a clear executive vision
2. Lack of an effective communication strategy
3. Failure to create and communicate a real sense of urgency
4. Poor consultation with stakeholders
5. Lack of structure methodology and project management
6. Failure to monitor and evaluate the outcome
7. Failure to mobilise change champions
8. Failure to engage employees
9. Absence of a dedicated and fully resourced implementation team
10. Lack of sympathetic and supportive Human Resources policies
Lucey, Bateman and Hines, 2005

Following this work, Dr Pauline Found, Peter Hines et al developed a Lean Sustainablity Iceberg model which encourages organisations to not just consider and employ effective processes and the tools and techniques used to create them, but to consider whether the organisation has a clear and cascaded strategy, whether there are leaders who nurture and develop staff and work to this strategy, producing a positive organisational culture conducive to successful change.

Sustainable lean iceberg model

P. Hines, P. Found, G. Griffiths & R. Harrison, 2007

Both of these models are helpful in preparing organisations for the necessary “pre” work needed to secure sustainable change. However, in my experience, the biggest hurdle to overcome within achieving transformation is simply that of time – sufficient time to devote to the sizeable task at hand and time to involve all those affected in the change, communicating why change is necessary and what it will mean.

Too often change is tasked to middle to senior managers ON TOP of their day job. Deadlines to achieve revolution are short and consequently, corners are cut. Insufficient data is collected prior to the change so that when the change is made, it’s difficult to ascertain whether it’s actually made a difference. There often isn’t enough time to involve all stakeholders within the change programme and so when change occurs, it impacts other departments negatively, causing resentment and frustration. Time also plays a factor following the implementation of a change – how robustly does the organisation evaluate how successful the change was? What lessons can be learned from the implementation, what mistakes were made that must never be repeated? Can the organisation become cleverer as a result of the transformation?

In order to be an innovative organisation that continuously improves, it is imperative that sufficient time is given to improvement activity, pre change, during change and post change. Transformation needs to be seen as important an endeavour as ‘the day job’ and consequently, a significant proportion of time needs to be devoted to it.


1 comment
  1. Warren Gearey

    An interesting and informative article. I have joined an organisation that is dealing with some of the issues listed in the article. The challenge for me is how to develop strategies to progress our cultural change.

Comments are closed.