50% improvement in one week is more than an aspiration

Many people believe that setting stretch targets is more about setting aspirational goals than expecting actual breakthrough levels of improvement. We probably all know an inspirational quote that starts with “Reach for the stars and …”. However, as part of a Lean transformation it’s not just about setting high targets with a hope of motivating people to improve, it’s about using the methodology to deliver tangible breakthrough results.


If you’re not used to working in an environment that regularly does extraordinary things in terms of Lean improvement, then you can be forgiven for being sceptical when someone makes extraordinary promises. In some circumstances this scepticism is probably healthy as unfortunately not everyone who promises these breakthroughs can actually deliver them.

However, placing aside any concerns about individual or organisational capability then is this level of sustained improvement actually possible?

The answer is that when done properly it is absolutely possible. And more importantly this should be the expected level of change for improvement activities.

I was recently working with a team that targeted 50% improvement in production output. What did they achieve? Out of the 3 product lines that they targeted they were very happy to report that they had breakthrough improvement across the board

Product                           Increased production capacity

Product line 1                              +50%

Product line 2                              +65%

Product line 3                              +100%


So, putting your cynics hat on again you could say that this improvement could be easily achieved with more people, more equipment, more space … so what’s the big deal? The deal is that this was achieved with no extra people, equipment or space.  It’s fair to say that some spend is required to achieve some of the follow-on actions for even more capacity, but the initial target was achieved with no additional spend.

As I mentioned above this can be achieved when ‘done properly’.  This isn’t just about good facilitation technique it’s also about the whole transformational Lean methodology that’s used from top to bottom. When done properly there is clear direction and alignment from the top creating the motivation and direction along with providing the resources and support to make it happen.

There is a clear plan from everyone involved throughout the organisation defining which areas to target along with the expected improvement targets and Return On Investment.

Then there is the engagement of the people who do the work to help improve their work on a breakthrough level followed by daily improvement.

This sounds like a huge undertaking but it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be focussed and delivered ‘properly’ by everyone involved.