5 Phases of Lean Deployment – Phase 1, Exploration

5 Phases of Lean Deployment – Phase 1, Exploration

By: Herb Thompson   |     March 11, 2018


The 5 Phases of Lean Deployment provides organizations who are looking to become world-class leaders in their industry a roadmap for getting there. When undertaking improvements, it is usually easy to establish the “what”:

  1. Problems we want to solve
  2. Create more value for customers with fewer resources
  3. Lowering cost
  4. Regulatory requirements must we follow
  5. Objectives we want to meet

The challenge is often in establishing the “how” to:

  1. Change culture
  2. Achieve our goals
  3. Improve skills
  4. Meet measures
  5. Become world-class

If identifying the “how” is too difficult, the they will likely abandon a Lean Deployment.

Those that choose to give Lean Deployment a try through the utilization of Lean principles, we have created a roadmap for them: the 5 Phases of Lean Development.  This is the first of a five-part series in which I will outline and explain each of the 5 Phases of Lean Development.

  • Phase 1 – Exploration
  • Phase 2 – Establishment the Foundation
  • Phase 3 – Expansion and Focus
  • Phase 4 – Integration and Reinforcement
  • Phase 5 – Reinforcement and Momentum

We have specifically designed these phases to guide an organization through a successful Lean Deployment program.  They serve as a valuable tool for identifying potential obstacles in advance and setting expectations that enable leaders to anticipate and effectively navigate the Lean Deployment process. In each phase, there are seven elements that need to be satisfied. The first phase is “Phase 1 (Exploration)” if about research to better understand lean and what it means for their organization. During this Phase 1 – Exploration, the seven elements are fulfilled/implemented as follows:

Education: Leadership needs to understand Lean, which is accomplished through research: reading books, attending Lean conferences, a Lean assessment of the organization and conferring (i.e. “Benchmarking”) with others who have successfully implemented Lean Programs in their organizations. This will provide insight as to what a Lean Program means for the organization and will provide clarity of the internal and external resources needed and how to choose them to better fit the company culture and vision.

Benchmarking and lean assessments, which are vital for success, are essential to this element. Benchmarking enables leaders to communicate with similar organizations that have been through a Lean Deployment, gaining valuable first-hand information about successes and failures. A deep dive lean assessment into the organization itself provides a clear understanding of its current state, strengths, opportunities for improvements, and helps outline the strategic plan for continuing improvements.

Application: Initial and simple application in a small area of the organization should lead to early success and build confidence in the Lean process. Wherever you decide to do the first implementation, make sure that it is focused on a strategic need that has good visibility up and down the organization.  A Kaizen (good-change) activity is a great way to achieve this. The proper deployment will build confidence, success and early momentum, in large part because employees should start to see how their own participation helps shape the process, instilling in them a sense of ownership.

Communication: Formal and informal communication is essential to making all levels of the organization aware that Lean is coming. Communication should focus on mitigating rumors and fear about change in the organization and emphasize the positives of change.

Infrastructure: Infrastructure is not developed at this point, and generally is not done until the organization is fully committed to the Lean journey. At this stage, this element generally consists of one or two leaders, generally a senior person at the company and a Lean champion to build bench strength.

Time frame: While the Lean process in general, and more specifically, the Exploration phase can take quite a while to complete, organizations should be cautious of taking too long.  Lag time in this process might result in a loss of confidence and trust of the organization and/or its employees. Companies that take too long historically lack the visionary leadership that’s required to implement true change.

 Tools and Methods: Some of the tools that can be used at this stage include 5S, Kaizen, DMAIC,  Kanban and many others. Note, however, tools are only as good as the planning and execution.  Improper or inadequate planning and/or execution will result in ineffective, purposeless implementation.  For example, without first educating the team, a Kanban deployment may fail due to a lack of understanding. This is why the proper methodology is important: learn, apply and reflect.

 Results:  The exploration phase is about learning and planning, so there should be minimal to no performance gain expected.  This expectation should be communicated ahead of time, and throughout the Exploration phase, to the organization to avoid a “throwing in the towel” effect at the end of this phase.  The goal of this phase is education and acceptance of the Lean process.  Results will manifest themselves in the later stages. 

A Lean Deployment throughout an organization requires a methodical approach that includes education and planning.  Done incorrectly, a Lean Deployment will be just another flavor of the month casualty that will not move the strategic needle forward.  That is why many companies choose to work with a Lean expert to get Phase 1 done properly.

You can read more about Group50’s capabilities in our series of blog articles on Lean thinking and Continuous improvement here. You can talk to a Group50 Consulting Lean process expert in manufacturing or healthcare by sending a note to, calling (909) 949-9083 or requesting more information here.



About the Author:  Herb Thompson has over 25 years of TQM and Lean Six Sigma hands-on experience in multiple industries and the military complex with companies such as ThyssenKrupp and Ecobat.  He is a Lean Master who specializes in advising c-suite leaders on Lean/Six sigma strategies for manufacturing, global supply chains and military logistics as well.  His expertise includes Environmental Management, Occupational Safety and Energy Management.  He is a certified auditor in ISO 9001, 14001, 50001 and OHSAS 18001.  He is also an expert in Value Stream Mapping (over 1oo projects), Kaizan, developing lean roadmaps and supply chain management.  During his military career, which spanned 14 years, he was the senior enlisted adviser for multiple domestic and international logistical operations. Herb’s background is complemented by a M.S.A in Business from Central Michigan University and a BA in Business from Tarlton State. 

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This entry was posted in Continuous Improvement, Strategy 5.0, Supply Chain Optimization, Value stream mapping, on March 11, 2018

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