Don’t be afraid of Lean

The usual initial reaction to the word lean is a defensive one. Lean is most of the time associated in people’s mind with redundancy plans, more stress, extra work hours and Taylorism.

These accusations occur when Lean tends to be wrongly applied. Are the following lean principles really unhearable within a company?

  1. Completely satisfy customers through irreproachable quality
  2. Reduce costs and delays through waste elimination (in the processes)
  3. Develop people’s skills through problem solving

Are these principles unhearable?

So how to implement lean without using that “L” word, if you think it is a scary one?

Lean is a thinking system applied to your business to reach a competitive advantage, increase market shares and profitability. Is that a negative vision when you run a business?

Consider your company or activity as a board game and start exploring it to understand how it works. What are the processes in place? Are they followed? Have the people been trained? How have they been trained? What is the purpose of their activity? Are they creating value or repairing value? Are your customers (external and internal) happy? What is the quality of your production? Is it delivered on time?

All these questions, once answered thanks to field visits (Gemba) and observations at the peoples’ workstations (Genchi Genbutsu), will help you picture the real functioning of the processes in place and how job instructions are communicated. Do not take things for granted, go, and check them. The time invested in this activity will pay back tenfold.

Lean is demanding and extremely rewarding in terms of job knowledge and profit for anyone fighting status quo and eager to trigger change for the better. It requires to face, on the field, the product or service a company is delivering against customer satisfaction and expectancies to implement the needed changes for improvement.

The second step is to use the learnings from your observations to go and ask questions about why the job is done in that way and challenge the current status. Nothing is set in stone, especially in evolving environments as we know them today. The advancement of technology accelerates the need for change and should drag in its silage people. Immobility is dangerous and counterproductive but also a human natural behaviour to be dealt with facts and clear job objectives. It is the managers’ role to initiate a questioning approach by sharing with its teams’ clear targets against which they can align added value projects for their customers. By introducing a purpose for change, sense is brought upon a given situation and leading to triggerable actions.

The love of tools

Tools proposed by the lean methodology are only a means for revealing what should be seen and shared for improvement purposes. Training people in using a tool without a purpose is like chasing your own shadow. It is doomed to fail. On the other hand, teach people on how to look at their job with a customer perspective and reflect on how they can serve them in a better way is dramatically more enriching and interesting. Foreseeable benefits are an increase of productivity, better quality, less stress as people gradually eliminate wastes within processes and freed capacity for added value activities.

A common mistake is to apply lean for the sake of using a methodology and its tools. You will only end up training your people on the theory while the important fact is the need of improvement towards a business target. That state of mind requires outside the office management and showing interest in how the people work by meeting them where the job is done to deal with one problem at the time and initiate a step-by-step improvement culture.

Quality first

Innovation should occur on a clean basis unless you create a genuinely new product or service from scratch. Before adding new features or functionalities to a product, application or service protect your customers by understanding what goes wrong in the production flow and fix the issues to restore quality and customer satisfaction. Then analyse all customer feedbacks to identify unanswered needs and expectations, evaluate them, compare them to the company’s improvement ideas and develop only the functionalities that will bring value to the customer.

Why is Lean a must go?

Lean helps you understand by placing the customer at the centre of your concerns where the priorities in terms of actions lie. Besides, it allows you to break down production problems into an addressable size by teams or individuals as they are immediately dealt with where they appear. Finally, Lean is an inclusive work approach as it should be applied by everybody within an organisation. Embracing lean establishes the turn towards a learning system based on problem solving. Every single person is considered as a contributor to the success of the company and not as the source of the problem.

Try for yourself…

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