brian-romeBrian Rome, Formerly Vice President of Operations at Sign-Zone, Inc., is an experienced Manufacturing Operations Executive with a background in both high volume, and low volume/high mix manufacturing companies. Especially effective in developing long-term business strategies while increasing company profitability, improving responsiveness to customer requirements, optimizing operational processes, and leading cultural change. He is also a Lean Enterprise leader, practitioner, and instructor.


Traditionally, when we think of sustaining the gains made via the Lean methodology, much of the focus is on those activities that happen after an event.  Those activities include closing out Kaizen Newspaper items, conducting event audits, and holding project reviews.  True sustainment in Lean starts long before the events end!

There are three aspects of Lean sustainment we incorporated in our Lean journey at Sign-Zone:

  1. Creating a Lean culture
  2. Preparation for an event
  3. Post-event follow through

Creating a Lean Culture
In the book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business, Gino Wickman identifies 8 questions that core-valuesneed to be answered in order to build one’s Vision.  The first is identifying Core Values, those essential and timeless guiding principles, we live by. They guide us in all aspects of our business.

These Core Values – Passion for Excellence, Accountability, Respect, Innovation, Teamwork, and Integrity – set up the expectation we have of each other and ourselves:

Our Core Values drive our culture and necessitate our incorporation of the Lean Methodology into our business every day.

Let’s look at a few of these Core Values and see how they do that.

Passion for Excellence
We describe “Passion for Excellence” as “We are high achievers. We are highly profitable.”

In adopting the principles of the Entrepreneurial Operating System, EOS (from Traction), we want to make sure that driving for improvements in Quality, Cost, Delivery, and Safety via our continuous improvement events is sustained well after the events are completed. We stress understanding the problems we encounter in the review of current state phase of a Lean event.  All too often we have a solution to a problem, but it may not be the solution we are currently working on. By discovering and defining those problems first and then work to understand the root cause of that problem, we will be better able to solve the problem and sustain its fix.  Striving to be high achievers, we maintain our drive to continually get better.

We describe “Innovation” as “We celebrate creativity and take initiative.”

We have created a culture of change.  If it isn’t a new product, it is a new way to do a process or it is a tightening up of procedures we may not have followed so closely.  One of the challenges we face is sustaining new ways of doing things.  Many times we face “We have always done it this way” or “If it is not broken, don’t fix it” when trying something new.  Sometimes change makes sense and everyone accepts it.  We have also learned we need to work incrementally to achieve change.  A methodical approach allows everyone the chance to see the benefit of change, which in turn helps to solidify sustainment.

We describe “Teamwork” as “We work together to achieve our goals.  We have fun.”

Sustainment cannot work unless we are working together as a team.  Any Lean event we hold is made up of a cross-functional team.  This allows us to include those knowledgeable with the product and processes along with those who are not.

The team stays together through the event and continues to follow up long after the event by doing:

  • Data audits
  • Regular reviews of the Process Improvement List (PIL)
  • Reviews of the new standard work

If anything is not meeting expectations, it is reviewed and corrections made.  We have had a few events in which we did not attain or sustain the desired results.  Not maintaining the responsibilities of the team has contributed heavily to the failures.

The Lean methodology aligns with how our company operates.  Passion for Excellence, Innovation, and Teamwork drive the need for us to be a Lean company.  They set the groundwork for sustainment of gains made via Lean events.

Preparation for an event
We have adopted the position that if we choose our opportunities for improvement poorly, our results won’t be sustainable.  We spend a lot of time identifying those problems we need to fix.  We try to spend very little time finding a problem to fit a solution someone comes up with.  Traditionally, we have followed the “Whack a mole” methodology – going after the most recent issue that presents itself. We have moved away from that approach and have become extremely focused on the Value Stream model.  The identification of the problems for us comes from 5 sources:

  1. Observations
  2. Identification of internal quality issues (reprints, missed prints, finishing issues, etc.) via Pareto analysis.
  3. Identification of customer claims (orders our customers find something wrong with) via Pareto analysis.
  4. Identification of Process Constraints (bottlenecks)
  5. Value Stream Mapping

Depending on which tool we use (Kaizen, A3, MDI, etc.); we create an Event Charter to set the course for each event.

Post-event follow through
The post-event follow through is relatively easy if the first two points mentioned previously are incorporated with an event.  We have identified 3 elements that help us complete the sustainment process:

  1. Project Improvement List (PIL) or Kaizen Newspaper completion
  2. Leader Standard Work
  3. Post-Kaizen event audit

Final thought
Sustainment within the Lean Methodology is very difficult if you only focus on what happens after an event.


Brian’s story will also be found in the Manufacturers Alliance ebook coming soon.

Follow this Blog each month at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s