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Lessons Learned: Why Lean and Ergonomics Programs Don’t Stick

In my career, I have been an employee for companies in which I was a part of leadership team in implementing ergonomics and lean programs. Since 2009 when I started KED, I have been the consultant who has helped companies with their ergonomics and lean programs.  Sometimes I’ve been able to get in at the ground level to guide and direct implementation and sustainability of the program.  Other times I’ve come in at various levels of support for the programs.  Along the way there have been many lessons learned.  I have come to realize that my “lens” in starting, progressing and sustaining in the operational and safety world of companies tells me that we, who are involved in improving and optimizing the productivity, quality and safety of our companies have to do a better job.  That is, if we are serious about seeing the changes desired become changes actualized.  I’ve seen programs started, sustained and thrived and I have seen programs started, wane and die on the vine.  Much more so with ergonomics programs than lean.

I have covered the essential components of ergonomics programs in previous blogs, see part 1 and part 2.  Instead of looking at program details I believe our attention and focus needs to be on the “5 P’s plus 3”:  Policy, Program, Partnerships, Politics, Personnel, Personalities, plus Finance, Timing and Systems Thinking.  Here they are:

1. Program:  Does the program have not only a good idea but does it define what needs to change and why?  Many times ergonomics is used as a “good idea” to reduce MSDs.  Ok, so why is it a good idea and what changes will have to happen to not only implement but also sustain it.
2. Policy:  Building on Program, are there policies or company rules that need to change?
3. Partnerships:  Who do we need to partner with inside the company, i.e. what other departments and their leaders are needed for support and participation? Who else sees and will realize the value of ergonomics?
4. Personnel:  Do we have the people on board who are capable of making the change successful?  Do they have the skills, ability, desire and time to devote this?
5. Personalities:  Do we need to take into account certain personal characteristics of the people involved in making the change happen?  This and #4 are addressed quite well in Change Management.
6. Finances:  Do we know what the program and practice changes will cost (at the outset) and who will pay for it?  Do we know the expected return on investment and how it will be realized?
7. Timing: Is the idea for change (ergonomics or lean) something whose time has come?  Is this truly a good time for this initiative?  Is the benefit or pain strong enough and clearly evident to all?
8. Systems Thinking:  Do we know how the change might impact other (business & operational) systems so that we avoid the “law of untended consequences”? Nothing is ever done in total isolation.

The above “5 P’s and 3” are based on what I believe would greatly benefit those who are charged with implementing and/or reviving an ergonomics or lean program.  There is much more that could be said for each point but will leave it at this.  What do you think?  Your comments are welcome.

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