Planning is everything in a winning lean journey.

Many of you will be taking a vacation in August. My bet is that you put a lot of effort into planning the trip. You looked at various options, weighed their benefit against their cost, and consulted with family members to make a decision. Many of you probably even developed a Plan B. The planning was worth the effort because, without it, you would be very likely to have a bad experience.

Regrettably, most organizations put less planning into their lean journey than you do into planning a vacation, even though they have the skills and tools they need to succeed in lean. Inadequate planning will derail your lean journey just as effectively as lousy leadership and ignoring the culture. Here are three of the most common-and deadly-mistakes you need to avoid in planning your lean journey.

The first mistake is simply underplanning. Did you pull a team together for only an hour or two to put together a plan? Was planning just another agenda item in staff meetings? Neither approach is sufficient. Efficiency must never take precedence over effectiveness in planning. The plan itself is almost incidental; planning-the discussions and debates about variables and possibilities-is what really matters. As Dwight Eisenhower once stated, “Planning is everything; the plan is nothing.” You have to invest time in the discussions that will lead to understanding and commitment.

The second mistake is not establishing points of reflection along your lean journey. Without points of reflection in the schedule, most organizations wait to reflect until they are so far off course they can’t ignore it any longer. When driving on your vacation, you check the map frequently to make sure you’re on course; you don’t wait to see buzzards circling your vehicle. The hard part is that the faster we are going, the more frequently we need to reflect because we can get off course more quickly. Don’t wait until the need for reflection becomes obvious. Build in points of reflection so that you can make minor adjustments instead of major corrections.

The third mistake is not making the current reality a major component in the plan. Using a plan that was successful for another organization probably won’t work because your current reality is different. Many elements of current reality affect your plan, including your resources, culture, business conditions, and any past baggage you might be carrying from previous initiatives. As Max DePree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define current reality.” The plan for a company near bankruptcy with little resources should be different than one for a company with record profits and no immediate reason to change.

Understanding current reality as it affects your plan will require some close examination. One organization we were helping with plan development started with an assessment to learn what everyone was really thinking. Many things were revealed, but one lesson was most significant in affecting their lean plans. All of the executives said, “Here are the problems we face but the employees don’t see them.” All of the employees said, “Here are the problems but the execs don’t see them.” The lists of problems were the same. There was a clear disconnect in the organization that would have led to a seriously flawed lean plan if it had not been uncovered.

Think about why you plan the things you do. Planning provides a level of comfort, allows you to be flexible when required, and makes it easier to coordinate work with your colleagues. Fundamentally, you plan because it is too important not to. If your vacation warrants some serious planning, you should certainly invest the same serious effort in planning your lean journey.

Jamie Flinchbaugh is a founder and partner of the Lean Learning Center in Novi, MI, and the co-author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean: Lessons from the Road.He shares his successful and varied experiences of lean transformation as a practitioner and leader through companies such as Chrysler and DTE Energy. He also has a wide range of practical experience in industrial operations, including production, maintenance, material control, product development and manufacturing engineering. Jamie is a graduate fellow of the Leaders for Manufacturing Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his research thesis was on implementing lean manufacturing through factory design. He also holds a B.S. in Engineering from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, and an M.S. in Engineering from the University of Michigan. To contact Jamie directly, go to the web site