I’ve been where you are. You’re sitting in your office looking at your financials, and you can’t decide whether to put your head down on your desk or throw something at the wall. You and your team are doing all of the right things – strategies that have been extremely successful for you in the past – and working as hard as you can…. Or maybe they’re even moving in the wrong direction. What do you do when the things that have always worked so well for you…don’t?

That’s when you stop, reassess, and change course. But that can be tough to do from the inside. That moment – when you feel like somebody just changed up the test so that all of your right answers are now wrong – is when you know you’re ready for a lean consultant. Somebody who can look at your business objectively, combine what they observe with the best practices they’ve seen elsewhere, and help you figure out what to do differently.

But you’ve heard a few too many horror stories about consultants who racked up huge bills without accomplishing anything. How do you avoid being one of those statistics? Thoroughly vetting a consultant before you sign on the dotted line is important, but so is taking a good look in the mirror. Because even the best consultant is going to fail if you haven’t reached a few important milestones. Consider this your checklist for where you need to be before you hire a lean consultant.


You’re on the edge of a cliff with a hungry tiger behind you.

Implementing lean management strategies is hard work. You’ve got to open your mind to doing things in a completely different way. You’ve got to be willing to put your company’s success over your own ego and be humble enough to admit there might be a lot you can learn. And then you have to overcome objections to get your employees on board. If you haven’t reached that “do or die” moment, you’re going to be tempted to quit when it turns out to be harder than you expected.


You accept that there are no shortcuts and no quick fixes.

I’ve worked with a lot of CEOs who want to do a “bandaid” version of lean. They just want to focus on the low-hanging fruit and not do the hard work to change things from the ground up and inside out. For example, when we’re working with a new client, we always start with an in-depth assessment of the current state of business. We need to understand both how things are supposed to work and how they actually work. I can’t tell you how many CEOs want to skip that step. If you’re looking for shortcuts, you’re going to be disappointed.


You understand that it’s a process, not an event.

Hiring a lean consultant isn’t like attending a seminar or conference. It’s the beginning of a permanent change in the way you do business that continues far past the time when you’ve said goodbye to your consultants and they’ve moved on to new clients. That also means that there’s no going back. Implementing lean processes isn’t about completing a checklist and then going back to the way you’ve always done things.


You’re not looking for someone to do it for you.

Implementing lean manufacturing isn’t about a consultant coming in, telling you what to do, and then riding off into the sunset. Successful implementation requires a fundamental change in both the way you think and your company’s culture. We can identify waste and tell you how to eliminate it, but only the CEO and the rest of the leadership team can change the culture. You’ve got to be willing to work for it – and to keep at it every day, not just when the consultants come to town for a meeting or work session.


You have realistic expectations.

Many failures actually come down to quitting too soon thanks to unrealistic expectations. Lean manufacturing isn’t going to move all of your numbers in the first few months. And, if you expect it to, you’re going to give up too soon. To get a realistic idea of how well it’s working, you have to narrow your focus, identifying specific metrics for the value stream you’re working on. You might get a much different perspective that way than if you look at enterprise-wide metrics.


You don’t try to recreate your own expertise in a consultant.

There’s a common myth that you need to hire a lean consultant who’s been there and done that in companies just like yours. And that’s fine if you want a cookie-cutter solution. But, if you want a solution that really moves the numbers, you need to hire a consultant with experience implementing lean manufacturing across a variety of industries. A consultant who understands the broad concepts and has applied them in many different industries can pick up on your particular details quickly. If industry expertise mattered that much, you wouldn’t need a consultant, because you already have that expertise in-house. You need lean manufacturing expertise.


As a lean consultant, I want you to hire me. But I don’t want to take your money and leave you where you started. I want to make a difference, and I can’t do that without you. Are you really ready?