Melissa Sawin, is the General Manager of Mid-Continent Engineering, a contract manufacturing company serving the defense, aerospace and healthcare industries.  She is an enthusiastic champion of continuous improvement initiatives – with 22 years of experience. Melissa also is a workshop instructor for the Manufacturers Alliance.


“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Why is continuous improvement so difficult?  Why do so many companies struggle to sustain?  Frankly, it’s because too much emphasis is put on the tools of lean and not enough effort is made by leaders to focus on creating the right culture and infrastructure. In my 12 years of experience implementing lean in two different manufacturing companies, instructing hundreds of lean practitioners and leaders, and touring dozens of factories in Minnesota and across the U.S, I can tell you that lack of sustainment affects the majority of companies who embark on a continuous improvement journey.  The lean author and consultant, David Mann, recently stated that as few as 2% of companies who say they are practicing lean are truly successful with their lean implementations. The other 98% are just dabbling in it.  So what separates the 2% from the 98%?  An effective lean management system.

While the lean management system is made up of four important components (which I will explain later), its success is determined solely by leadership behavior.  This is the single greatest key ingredient to the successful creation and sustainment of a continuous improvement culture.  The behavior that is required is one of complete and total engagement and participation in the continuous improvement journey.

I’m talking role up your sleeves behavior, where all leaders, including top line executives, don’t manage from their offices, but rather from the Gemba (where the work gets done) across every area of the company.

And they do it consistently, day after day, week after week, year after year. Anything less will result in a weak continuous improvement culture that will cause the company’s journey to struggle or ultimately fail.

The preceding was an out take from an ebook being published later this year by the Manufacturers Alliance (Join Us!) . This book is being compiled from real experiences from some of our best Lean Leaders and instructors in our association. Please comment and let us know your thoughts.

…more steps in the journey in the next blog installment.

Manufacturers Alliance membership benefits: Join Us

4 thoughts

  1. Hello would you mind letting me know which web host you’re using?

    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different internet browsers
    and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most.
    Can you suggest a good hosting provider at a fair price?
    Cheers, I appreciate it!


  2. I’ve had the good fortune to learn and train in Lean/CI under Melissa’s tutelage, and in fact, she introduced me to it. I enjoyed the excerpt, and eagerly await the publication of the ebook.
    I believe that regarding Lean, the problems with leadership buy in and sustainment stem from the fact that in American business culture, and manufacturing in particular, leaders have been taught to serve the needs of their superiors (make the boss happy), while a properly functioning Lean culture will always have leadership first serve Gemba, or the first line/ floor worker’s operational needs. This of course will, in turn, provide the path to attain company/ management goals, but it’s a difficult ideological jump for many in management to consistently make.


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