Where to Start with Lean Six Sigma

Hi Lean People!

I get asked all the time, “Why isn’t my organization using the Lean principles I’m trying to teach them?” This problem isn’t just for people starting on their Lean journey, even old pros often struggle to change the culture of an organization. Sometimes I see good people heading as fast as they can to achieve operational excellence without first understanding how to do it or the dangers that lie in those muddy waters ahead.

Here are a few steps I encourage companies I work with to follow as they begin to create a culture of Continuous Improvement… and a few mistakes you should try to avoid. (Don’t like reading? Skip this article and watch the video instead.)

Let’s follow the PDCA cycle.


  1. Get Inspired – Visit Shingo Prize winning or other amazing Lean companies. Get a sense for what excellence looks like. True Lean followers Steal shamelessly and share openly so we can all grow together.
  2. Set a UMG! You’ve heard of SMART Goals and BHAGs… well combine and simplify those concepts and you get an Un-achievable Measurable Goal. Why un-achievable? You want people to say, “We can’t do this.” to which you respond, “You’re right… we can’t reach that goal doing things the way we do them now.” Can I copyright this? #UMG
  3. Determine what is currently in your way. Use tools like Value Stream Maps, Talk to the operators at the Gemba, Collect Data, and then save all information to an Idea Funnel like the one in KPI Fire.
  4. Determine which systems and processes will have to change. How will you measure success?
  5. As a team create and finalize the plan to change processes and reach your goal.


Get started by doing just 2 things… implementing 2 systems. I won’t explain them in detail here but suffice it to say you only need these 2 things to really get your Lean program off the ground. As Paul Akers says in 2 Second Lean, “Fix what bugs you.”

  1. Training and Coaching System
  • Teach 8 Wastes and 5 Whys
  • Teach problem independence
  1. Daily Huddles
  • Visual KPIs
  • Daily standup to review progress
  • Capturing Ideas
  • Selecting Projects


Which KPI will we use to measure our Success? How is it performing against our plan?

  • Safety incidents
  • Quality defects
  • Throughput
  • Costs
  • On Time Delivery… and whatever else is important to you.

Perhaps even more important is the answer to this, “Are our employees engaged in continuous improvement?” How many ideas have been entered and how many are completed? Keep track using your daily huddle boards.

Act / Adjust

If you are seeing the start of the results you want… pour some fuel on the fire with:

  1. Reward and recognition
  2. More coaching
  3. and even more aggressive goals for your team.

If you are not seeing results… quit. Just kidding! Never quit. Instead:

  1. Be patient
  2. Be consistent
  3. Make sure you start by fixing problems that matter to your employees… then they will help you solve the bigger problems. Take care of them first!
  4. Watch out for detractors. Your biggest opponents have a lot of energy and are passionate. Find out why they oppose you then get them on your team. They’ll be your biggest advocates for going Lean.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Analysis Paralysis
  2. Blaming failure on “No top level support.”
  3. Focusing on tools, too many tools, not results
  4. Going after the BIGGEST problems first
  5. Not Measuring your results
  6. Not Rewarding your team

Whether you are new to Lean or just trying to figure out why your team isn’t adopting Lean principles I hope these tips will help on your journey. Check out the webinar to learn more about each of these common failure modes. You can also download the PowerPoint here.

Join us next month as we discuss how to “Gemba Walk your way to Excellence.” The art and science of regularly going to “The Place.”

Good luck on your Lean journey!

Cheers, Cedro Toro

Cedro Toro

I help teams take control of their work, making it easier and more rewarding through Continuous Improvement.