Is your Lean Director the worst enemy of lean thinking?


Sadly, in many (by all means, not all) companies, the Lean Director is the worst enemy of lean – he’s just there to stifle all real kaizen and promote the yes-men who excel at pretend lean. Why is that?

True lean is about achieving superior performance by helping all employees take control of their own work by:

  1. engaging with customers to improve both the deal and the relationship
  2. tackling a kaizen topic to better understand work
  3. checking that what is known is known by going back to standards
  4. contributing to a friendlier work environment by taking responsibility for work conditions

It’s about helping them write their own story.

The Lean Director however, is not responsible for performance. He or she is responsible for the method: they want to own the story.

Their success lies in making the top boss buy into their method, their narrative. So their number one survival goal is to make sure that your story fits in the story they’re selling upstairs. Whatever that is.

Unfortunately, Lean Directors are not that interested in the brilliant kaizen a team has done on their work area. They’re not interested in the unexpected, clever suggestion from a very shy person. They’re not even interested in taking kanban cards out of the pull system.


What they want is nicely filled in boards (their boards). What they want is neat 5S (their 5S). What they want is maturity audits (against their roadmap). What they want is to count you as one of their success stories (in their narrative).

They’re the external consultants’ best friends, because the consultants are there to implement the narrative – to make it so. Consultants are “change leaders.” Employees are resistant to change – Brrr – just listen to them!

They’re your worst frenemies: “sure, this kaizen is interesting, but… you haven’t followed the corporate standard, “; “of course it’s good to count every accident but… this makes the number look really bad.”; “yes, you must be innovative and flexible but… where does this fit in the roadmap?

Sure, Mr., sure…

We understand the problem well enough – still haven’t found a countermeasure though, other than deliver results supported by shop floor employees.

Don’t loose faith in lean because the Lean Director is a jerk. The magic moment in lean is not when you tell people how to better do their work (you might have to, if you’re the boss, it’s your job) but when you discover with them what they think better doing their job is and show you how it’s done.

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