Internal vs. External Lean Consultants

While reading a forum posting the following question appeared…Would you recommend my organization bring in external lean consultants or use internal people to drive the transformation? The post received a number of varied opinions. However, most comments debated accountability and leadership instead of the expertise and value of internal vs. external lean consultants for starting a lean transformation. I believe that organizations that are serious about the transformation or radical step level change should bring in a proven external lean consultant, as long as they have a clear objective to leverage the resource.

Most successful lean companies were guided at some point by external lean consultants. As I reflect on my career, the most successful periods of my lean journey were those when external consultant inspired me to incredible levels of excellence. During those periods, I was able to lead teams to deliver stellar results, and grow tremendously as a lean professional. I learned principles and concepts I would have never learned by just reading a book or attending a workshop.  

In my opinion, there are three benefits to leveraging an external lean consultant.

1.     Increase the prioritization and participation in the lean transformation

2.     Leverage to consultant to help drive difficult to sell lean initiatives or direction

3.     Leverage the consultant to develop internal lean consultants

The presence of an external consultant increases the prioritization and participation in the lean transformation for a few reasons. One reason is simply curiosity. People are intrigued by the advice or direction a consultant may recommend. Even in instances, were people didn’t think it necessary to bring in a consultant, they engage to stay informed, state their resistance or influence the direction. Another reason is that people feel pressured to prioritize the initiative because of the investment.  They associate a level of importance with the expense and expected return.

The consultant, especially with specialized expertise, can add tremendous value to the selling proposition of a difficult concept or radical new direction. Many lean startups find it difficult to sell the value of some of the concepts because on the surface they appear counter intuitive. The consultant can assist in creating a compelling reason and convey the message to resonate with leaders that don’t have a lean background.

Lastly, the consultant can bring expertise not yet developed and can serve as a sensei or coach to the internal lean consultants or leaders responsible for deploying the transformation. The principles and philosophies of lean have deep meanings that are very difficult to convey in books and workshops for mass audiences. Building the internal talent pool is critical to long term success.

On the source, the question is difficult to answer generically without more information regarding culture, leadership commitment and the compelling reason for beginning this journey. The key, however, is to contract consultant with proven results, to understand the benefits, and specifically how to leverage the resource.


– Crystal Y. Davis






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