Lean Decay Rate

I’m certainly no physicist, but I think there’s a worthy analogy between the decay of radioisotopes and lean behavior within an organization.

According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ webpage on Radiation Emergency Medical Management:

  • “Radioactive half-life is the time required for a quantity of a radioisotope to decay by half.
  • If the half-life of an isotope is relatively short, e.g. a few hours, most of the radioactivity will be gone in a few days.
  • If the half-life of an isotope is relatively long, e.g. 80 years, it will take a long time for significant decay to occur.”

So, enough about isotopes. What about lean “culturetopes?”

If “lean” was discontinued within your organization, how long would it take for people to revert to their native batch-and-queue behaviors? How long would it take for most of the “leanness” to be gone?

Silly question?

Perhaps. But, I think the question can prompt some useful reflection.

What would happen if the number one executive lean leader within your company left for greener pastures? Would the lean transformation stop dead in its tracks? Or would the organization shake it off and, due to the profound depth of the lean cultural evolution, continue rolling?

What would happen if there was a sudden, substantial drop in business? What if the company introduced some wizbang new technology? What if your company was acquired? What if...?

Is your lean half-life measurable in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years?


Click to enlarge

I think that the Shingo Prize Behavior Assessment Scale (see figure) can provide meaningful insight into an organization’s lean cultural half-life. The further to the right on the Assessment Scale, the longer the lean half-life…by a lot!

What are your thoughts?

Related posts: Line of Sight, Employee Engagement, and Daily Kaizen, Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!, Bridging to Daily Kaizen – 15 (or so) Questions


There are 2 Comments

Dale Savage's picture


Thank you for the reminder that we must work towards a cultural tranformation rather than just "doing" projects. As Lean leaders, we may think that great things are being accomplished, but if we are not helping to build a mindset which will sustain that should we be removed from the situation, then what have we really accomplished overall? If we really believe in Lean principles, this should be a sobering thought to us, because we want to pass on the passion for continuous improvement. Please keep the reminders coming.


markrhamel's picture


Thanks for the comment.

Yes, it's a matter of being (from a cultural perspective) rather than doing lean. That's why I prefer the term "transformation" over "implementation."

Best regards,