Learning from Mistakes
When the planning phase of your Lean project is nearing completion, you face the task of selecting the equipment or area for your pilot project. We're making the assumption, at this point, that the senior management and executive leadership are fully onboard with embracing Lean manufacturing. If not, you're setting yourself up for failure no matter how successful you believe the pilot project will be.

Most Lean projects that fail do so not because the wrong pilot project was selected, but because there is no support (or varying levels of support) from the top down. Senior management must whole-heartedly embrace the effort and also be ready to support other projects that develop as a result of going Lean. Without the unwavering backing of senior management, your first project should be to get them onboard. Otherwise, attempting to move forward can quickly result in wasted time and money, which in turn leads to "I told you so" mentality that will really derail your efforts.

With top-down support and vision about the desired state, there will be less hesitation and worry about the potential failure of your pilot project. And this is usually where the most typical mistake is made. While it seems counterintuitive, it's critical to select equipment or areas for your initial Lean efforts that garner the highest impact. Many Lean and TPM implementers are hesitant to do so, fearing results that are not as effective as the envisioned goal. They figure it's best to start small with less chance of errors or failure. Starting too small is a mistake. Keep in mind that your pilot project will be in a controlled environment. Now is the time to learn about what can go wrong with future plant-wide rollouts.

Select equipment or areas that will have the biggest impact to the performance or flow of the line, and then be ready to learn. Monitor the process and keep records of what went wrong and how it was resolved as you work out the kinks in your implementation. By working in a controlled area, you eliminate any negative plant-wide impacts of your learning process. Of course, you want to plan the implementation as carefully as possible to keep problems to a minimum, but Murphy's Law can rear its head on even the best-laid plans.

By selecting a high-impact piece of equipment or area, you achieve two things when you reach the desired state with your pilot project. First, you've taken a much larger step in advancing the Lean payoff. Improvements here have farther reaching, positive consequences than improving small or less impactful areas. Positive results will go a long way to influencing the continuation of Lean efforts. Naysayers will be quickly silenced. Secondly, you have created a map from the learning experience of your pilot project that will help you conduct implementations of Lean processes that have plant-wide repercussions, and you can do so with less worry about failure or complications.

You've learned from any mistakes, and you are now positioned to move forward with more expansive Lean/TPM initiatives with confidence as you can replicate the steps you took to be successful in your controlled environment.