Lean Process Improvement has become a popular and very dominant approach for organizations to improve their operational effectiveness. And yet, depending on which reports you read, anywhere from 40% to 90% of all Lean projects fail.

The Western’s world business paradigm is based on the mechanistic view of an organization. The goal is to make the machine run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. This mechanistic approach has led to the somewhat successful outcomes of Lean and Six Sigma implementations. However, as many Lean practitioners will tell you, Lean has yet to deliver on its promise. Why are the statistics on successful Lean implementations so poor? It is because it is focused primarily, if not dominantly on Activity.

Focusing primarily on Activity ignores the energy of Relationship and Context. Let’s review our formula for creating any outcome:

Impact = (Activity * Relationship2)Context

When you focus solely on Activity, you produce a certain level of success. To achieve real impact, Lean practices must focus on a bigger picture, including Relationship and Context.

Context aligns the organization around a common Soulful Purpose and a passion for making an impact that everyone is committed to. Emerging from Context, Relationships take on a different energy. This produces an energy of commitment to the success of others, a sense that we are all in this together and my success is a function of everyone’s success. Teams become Communities of deeply supportive members who care about the success of the whole community.

When Lean practices focus only on Activity, they not only limit its potential impact, there is also a highl probability that the organizations’ existing Contex and the associated Relationship patterns will undermine the Lean efforts. This is why so many Lean implementations fail. They run into a wall of existing Context that is inconsistent with the objectives of the implementation.

Let me give you an example. Working with a client in the security / encryption segment, they were facing some significant pressure from competitive challenges. They began to implement Lean to improve operations and make them more competitive. One of their underlying Context patterns was “primacy of engineers.” Whatever the engineers deemed success is what defeined what how things were done. For them success was by developing the most elegant solution, for that is what they viewed they were all about, their Souful Purpose. All efforts at producing a different approach to product development and pricing was continuously, and quite subtly, undermined by this deeply rooted Context. Lean improvements were only modestly successful and not enough to make them more competitive.

When we uncovered this for the client, we began to redefine the role of engineering. We shifted the Context in a way that created total support and commitment of the engineers to a Context more in line with today’s competitive reality. With this new context they actually became the champions of the Lean effort which produced the desired result – a more competitive organization.

Lean in a Living Organization starts with Context, builds out the relationships and lets the power of commitment and engagement define the activities that will naturally become streamlined and effective.