Implementing Lean: Going Boldly Where No Company Has Gone Before?

Editor’s note: on occasion I take a question posed on a LinkedIn group discussion and expand on the response I provided to the discussion. Since I am very much at odds with the big-program (read, big-budget) initiative approach so prevalent as it relates to continuous improvement, some topics elicit a stronger reaction than others. Today is one of those occasions. Some time I will return to my leadership series, which I began in August.

This question was posed in a Continuous Improvement group in LinkedIn recently:

What is the most challenging part of implementing lean in a business that has never dealt with lean before?

This question struck me as a curious one, and it elicited a lot of answers from fellow travelers. Many answers focused on leadership, others focused on culture–all good thoughts. But here is an alternative thought: there is no business that has never dealt with Lean!

True, there are many organizations that have never embarked on a “Lean program,” replete with consultants, roll-outs, etc. etc. But think about it for a minute: what organization has not looked at any of its processes and never done anything to improve them?

Maybe a significant part of the “challenge” would be eliminated if those of us in the teaching chair considered that people intuitively understand Lean, have to some extent “done Lean” and that the idea of eliminating waste is far from a foreign concept.

In one of my past incarnations, I conducted a two-day “introduction to Lean” course that included a factory simulation (actually included two working side by side). Through the iterations of factory line improvement, I told the attendees to focus on the process. The one “tool” I had them use was an outcome-focused Process Map. Over the course of the first day (first four of eight simulated days), the teams made significant improvements in their operation.

It was early on the second day that I presented a segment on the “Tools of Lean.” During this time I gave a brief description of each tool (5S, Quick Changeover, etc.), and we discussed how the teams had implemented Lean without having had the tools discussed in advance. The teams were using the tools whether or not they knew what they were doing had been described as a tool.

The reality was that through a careful analysis of the processes they used on their lines, and some “common sense” thinking, the teams made the changes necessary to improve quality and throughput.

If an organization is seeking to embark on a Lean journey, I’m suggesting that while the business may have never dealt with Lean (as an initiative), the people have dealt with Lean. They do not need a new way of thinking (read, they do not need to be told they’re idiots),  they most likely need only to sharpen their process-analysis skills to see how a process contributes to waste and then focus on what will remove the waste.

PS–this is Veteran’s Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in Canada. My heartfelt thanks to those who served, both in war and in peacetime, to preserve the freedoms we all too often take for granted.

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About Tim James "Mr. Procedure"

A communicator; all-purpose capability in writing, designing and presenting training for all facets of organizational function. While my focus has been manufacturing, my training/development experience includes supervisory and lead person development, audit processes, continuous improvement and Lean, and Quality Management System implementation.
This entry was posted in Continuous improvement, Culture change, Leadership, Process, Process Analysis, Purpose Maps, Training, Training Program Development and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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