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Category: Lean management


Core Purpose, not to be confused with Company Vision or Company Values (which could be considered the “where” and “how”), a company’s core purpose is more about the “why”.  In fact, it could be considered the philosophical component that is often missing in business. Let’s be honest, most of us have asked ourselves at some point, usually on a Monday morning, why am I doing this? or what difference am I making in life?  Not having the answers to these questions can leave us feeling empty and un-motivated, for most of us, having no clear purpose in life can be downright depressing.  So, why would this be any different in our working lives?  After all, we all spend far too much of our lives at work.

A common mistake with core purpose that businesses make is confusing it with what they make or provide to generate revenue streams. For example, “Our core purpose is to make the best widgets in the world”. This doesn’t cover “why”. One could ask why do we even make widgets in the first place?  The problem with this scenario is that there is no ideology involved, and therefore little emotion or passion.  The workforce will continue to turn up each day and make this, or provide that, go home, return the next day and do it all over again.  Even typing these words sends a shiver down my spine.

Providing Continuity

In this world of change, it’s sometimes difficult to establish just how much change we should make.  After all, we keep hearing “change is good”.  This is true, but only to a point.  For example, I know of a business that made a total change in its direction of what it produced, based upon a perceived market opportunity with higher profit margins.  The move was almost disastrous, and a U turn with a lot of painful learnings was made just in time.  The fact is that they attempted to move too far away from what they were about, and what they’d always been the best in the world at. With frequent changes of board members and CEO’s in todays business world, it’s increasingly important to nail down just what the core purpose of the business is.

A better example is a medium size enterprise I know that makes mid to high range food products.  Their core purpose is very clear, “to provide life with a little enjoyment”.  To fully understand the impact and importance of this purpose, you would need to see and feel it from the shop floor to the board room – it is tangible.  They don’t make mass produced cheap products.  They don’t use cheap imported ingredients, and they certainly don’t make health foods.  Not that there’s anything wrong with health foods and cheap mass produced foods, it’s just not “their thing”.  They make products that can be enjoyed as a treat, something that satisfies a basic need in most people.  It has helped them to keep focused upon why they exist, and what they do best and thus achieve good profitability, sustainability and growth.

Relating this to my life was interesting for me.  My eldest son has recently completed a degree in music, and when I asked what the hardest part was, he answered “being constantly asked what job it’s going to get me as if money is everything in life”.  He went on to explain that his purpose in life wasn’t to be a well-paid accountant, or a captain of industry, rather it was to entertain people.  That’s what he’s passionate about, that is what he’s good at, and this is what will make him successful.

LMAC are internationally recognised Lean experts with consultants in Australasia, UK and China. Our strategic Lean thinking approach takes organisations beyond simple ‘Lean tools’. We have extensive experience in many sectors including FMCG, Protein Processing, Manufacturing and Service. If you would like to know more about LMAC and how we could assist your organisation’s Lean implementation Contact us
Lean Consultant


Many organisations have been ‘burnt’ by a poor Lean Consultant. Those that come in looking smart, energetic, talking but not listening. The one’s with the smooth PowerPoint sales pitch, claiming to be the best with in the field. You know the type. Then once you have hired them, their lack of interpersonal skills and poor depth of knowledge come to the forefront, and within a few days of them starting to work with your team people are being turned off about the whole notion of Lean. Even at this early stage, your Lean journey is already off on a bad start.

Selecting the right Lean Consultant for your business can be a minefield and is not always easy. Of course, all consultants will claim to have a good level of knowledge of Lean; this is part and parcel of any sales pitch. But as we all know, a Lean consultant that only knows the lean tools is simply not enough.

A good Lean Consultant will have built up a sound working knowledge over a number of years of actual implementation. It’s not enough for a consultant to have two or three successful clients. The implementation of Lean techniques will be different for industry sectors and companies because the business environments vary significantly.

A good Lean Consultant will have successfully implemented Lean in maybe 30 or more companies. They will have honed their skills and been immersed in Lean at a leading Lean organisation like Toyota or Nissan. Not as many claim, gained a degree from a leading university in performance improvement or trained as a ‘black belt’ with some ‘credited organisation’. Becoming a good Lean Consultant takes experience, pure and simple.

In addition to having solid implementation experience, the best consultants will also have good corporate level experience and will be well-grounded in the realities of the business world. A good Lean Consultant will be ready to roll up their sleeves at a moment’s notice and work alongside implementation teams and in the next breath be sitting in the boardroom discussing strategic implementation with the senior team. This type of approach comes with years of practical experience.

Credibility is vital as a good Lean Consultant will spend significant time working at all levels of the organisation. This means he or she must be able to develop a good relationship with the organisation quickly. This is much easier when the consultant has an established level of credibility and a proven track record.  The best Lean Consultants have the skills to convey the message to employees at all levels, from the boardroom to the shop floor.

Lean consulting organisations have different capabilities and come in all sizes and shapes. Similarly to any other profession, generally the best value is not always the least expensive. Low cost consultants may appear to offer value for money, and may be able to implement the basic lean principles and move your business a short distance along it’s Lean journey. But rarely will they be able to think and work at a strategic level. Pushing and challenging your organisation at the right time and in the right places. To truly transform your business practices to world-class operation takes real skill and knowledge. Select your Lean Consultant on what they will add to your Lean journey not on the ticket price.  The reality is it may cost a few thousands more, but the alternative may end up costing you millions in missed opportunities.

In Summary, you should only look for Lean Consultants with the skills and experience to achieve outstanding results. Make sure you choose the right Lean Consultant for the right reasons. This will ensure that you have experts that will truly partner with you, making sure that you gain the maximum strategically from the process and generate substantial returns not only in a short time, but also on an on-going basis, year on year.

LMAC are internationally recognised Lean experts with consultants in Australasia, UK and China. Our strategic Lean thinking approach takes organisations beyond simple ‘Lean tools’. We have extensive experience in many sectors including FMCG, Protein Processing, Manufacturing and Service. If you would like to know more about LMAC and how we could assist your organisation’s Lean implementation Contact us
Lean Crunch


Why do so many organisations fail to make Lean work successfully? Lets look at something we call the Lean Crunch Phenomena.

Over the years, many companies have tried ‘Lean’, interestingly only a relatively small number consider that they have succeeded in making their organisation truly ‘Lean’.
Those that fail, in most cases, is not for want or effort. Indeed most organisations that try to become Lean invest time, effort and quite often significant sums of money in hiring ‘Lean’ Consultants. Yet after a period of time their enthusiasm for the process starts to diminish and they disengage from the process.
Normally the comments at that time are something like, ‘It has some benefits, but it was not for us’ or ‘it just consumed too much time and we do not have the resources’ or even ‘The workforce just did not take to it’.
This just goes to prove, being ‘Lean’ is not easy. So why do organisations struggle with the introduction of Lean concepts and processes?
Let’s looks a little deeper at why this is and what the typical patterns of failure are.
Over the years as a Lean Consultant, I have listened to many tales and stories of failed ‘Lean’ programs and interestingly many of those that have failed to make Lean work effectively, normally drop the initiative after 1 or 2 years. Nearly all follow a pattern that leads to a decision point. One we will call the Lean Crunch Point.
Most will have put a great deal of effort into making Lean work for them, but typically have failed to get the process of controlling and linking the various elements of Lean correct. This inevitably means that at some point people begin to question if Lean is right for the business.

LCP Giff

The above chart shows that as the levels of ‘low hanging fruit’ diminish over time, the results become less. At this point people’s enthusiasm and appetite for Lean will change at all levels of the organisation. The excitement of the initial days of the program will diminish and the pressures of day to day business start to take priority. Kaizen activities will, unless planned well, start to become more difficult and lose focus. People will start to shy away from tackling the more difficult areas because of the lack of clear direction.
When this happens, sooner or later the question will be asked at senior level, is Lean working?
In effect we are now at the ‘Lean Crunch Point’

At the Lean Crunch Point, normally one of 3 directions is chosen.

Not for us
Many companies have a history of ‘flavour of the month’. Sometimes this is triggered by the arrival of a new CEO or senior member with a point to prove or a desire to put his or her mark on the company. Sometimes it is simply the review of what Lean has actually delivered to the bottom line or it could be simply the program has run out of steam and lost focus. In any case this path normally leads to Lean thinking being dropped and badged as ‘not right for us’ or ‘it didn’t work because it only really works in automotive’

Happy Kaizen
Sometimes Businesses see a good level of benefits, but fail to fully harness the power that using Lean strategically can bring. This normally means that on a day to day level some Lean tools will remain in the organisation, but Lean is not driven from the top in a strategic manner. Normally in this situation, Lean is left to the ‘CI department’ or to the shop floor supervisor. So what happens is that Lean is used more as a ‘mole hitting’ tool when there is a problem. Lean tends in this case, to be used when people are happy that a quick kaizen will fix the issue rather than as a planned intervention as part of a strategic value stream improvement.

Let’s do this
Quite often this path is taken after a lot of soul searching and discussion as to why Lean has not fully delivered. Usually this path will be entered with a new level of commitment from the senior management but little else. The key here is to understand that any Lean initiative must be linked strategically to the top level goals of the business and to embed it’s thinking into the culture of the organisation.

So how do we do this?
In order for an organisation to be successful, Leadership must take steps to close the gap between today’s performance and an organisation’s vision and take a strategic approach to the improvement activities.
Lean is not simply a set of tools that can be wheeled out as required; it is a holistic approach to changing the way an organisation operates day to day. In effect, the company culture.

Leadership has to be just that; Leadership. They must believe, teach and live the process with everyone else. Lean is not something that can be left to a department or an individual. It starts with setting a clear vision for the direction of the organisation. This has to come from the top. Processes must be put in place top to bottom to ensure that the message is understood. If this is not done you are simply loading the organisation for failure.
Leaders need to be continuously looking for the signs of the onset of the Lean Crunch Phenomena and recognise  when the Lean Crunch Point is coming. The message then needs to be clear and the  direction of the organisation reinforced. Additional effort should be put into the process so that people are left in no doubt that Lean is the way forward and the senior team believe in the process 100%

The Lean Crunch Phenomena is something that nearly all organisations that decide to embark on a Lean Journey will experience. The successful ones are those that have the ability to recognise when the process it reaching the Lean Crunch Point and take action.

LMAC are internationally recognised Lean experts with consultants in Australasia, UK and China. Our strategic Lean thinking approach takes organisations beyond simple ‘Lean tools’. We have extensive experience in many sectors including FMCG, Protein Processing, Manufacturing and Service. If you would like to know more about LMAC and how we could assist your organisation’s Lean implementation Contact us


Changing a culture in an organisation is no easy task. It takes dedication, strategy, and a heck of a lot of learning and experience to avoid the numerous pitfalls along the way.

Some won’t succeed the first or even second time of trying, but some will come back and try again.

Let me introduce you to a poultry processor taking a different approach – they have taken in past learnings and are committed to a very real and personal journey. Even better, they’re doing it for all the right reasons.

LMAC are proudly supporting Tegel on their Simplify journey. They are doing the hard stuff, making sure tough decisions are made for the long term and by creating and maintaining their own internal momentum. Our role is smaller, but still important. Providing guidance on what works well, and what doesn’t. Together, we make a good team.

Let’s re-cap on 3 key messages from the video:

  • Keep the message simple. Committing to making things simpler for everyone in the organisation is absorbed much more easily than talking of high ideals of Operational Excellence and eliminating waste.
  • Keep the message real by living and breathing it. Hearts and minds will never be won if it looks like another “flavour of the day”.
  • Of course, cost benefits are important, but please let it be more than a cost reduction exercise.

The key to sustaining improvements – create a win-win

Let’s look at the client’s rally call “SIMPLIFY”. By simplifying the roles and tasks of every individual, they are in fact creating a win-win scenario. Waste is eliminated which benefits the business, frustration is eliminated which benefits the individual. A key difference in this case is that the organisation is leading with a positive.

Lean Entropy


At Last, a scientific analogy of Lean failures and Lean Mediocrity

Managers across the world imagine a utopia of “self-managing teams” working hard to continually take their organisation to the next level of perfection.  For many, progress will be made, only for decline and recession to dash their dreams, and force a compromise with reality.  The problem is, many people take things like “Operational Excellence” too lightly – they treat it like another initiative, something to do rather than something to be.  They underestimate the energy and commitment required of themselves, and their management team not only to get their organisation to industry best, but more importantly, the energy and commitment to keep it there.  They fail to consider ENTROPY.

Until the other day, I had never come across the word “entropy”, so please don’t mistake me for one that reads a thesaurus for evening relaxation.  I was having an interesting discussion with one of my Senior Lean Consultant’s, Peter, who happens to have a degree in Chemistry.  He mentioned that in the scientific world of thermodynamics, there is a law that dictates that entropy will always increase with time.  Time to explain the meaning of ENTROPY:

lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder

My learned colleague went on to explain, “there is no such thing as perpetual motion or free energy in thermodynamics, unless additional energy is constantly applied, ENTROPY will prevail”.

The light bulb went on – actually, there is no such thing as perpetual motion or free energy full stop.  So in terms of Lean, can we logically assume that there is a law concerning Entropy?   I think we can.

Entropy in business operations might look like the following




Culture Change to sustain!

A lot has been written about culture change being the most important element in sustaining Lean and continuous improvement benefits and providing a platform for future improvement.  We often hear the mantra “we must develop a culture of continuous improvement” from management teams across the globe.  But what about LEAN ENTROPY?  Any images of Eutopia should shatter at this point, because in reality sustaining the culture that sustains improvement will be an even bigger challenge.

So what sustains a business organisation culture?

Answer: ENERGY, it needs to be in the form of Leadership Energy, and unfortunately it isn’t free.   Prior to consulting, I felt this first-hand over 13 years within Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK.  I often thought about the culture we had developed there and how much it differed to other car manufacturers just down the road.  I also wondered how long it would take for us to drift back to let’s say a more “traditional” British car manufacturing culture without constant leadership drive and energy.   Not long I suspect.

Do the basics well, and more importantly, reward them well!

Doing the leadership basics well is time consuming and often undervalued, yet it is the basics that are most important.  Senior leaders walking the floor daily, looking at visual performance boards without invite, commenting on successes, advising upon closing gaps to targets – all actions that drive behaviours and ultimately culture.  Those junior managers that can respond instantly to the leader’s comments and questions are on the ball, and probably do their basics well too.  This is the kind of energy that senior leaders must look for in their management teams – it will fuel sustainability and stop Entropy in its tracks.

LMAC are internationally recognised Lean experts with consultants in Australasia, UK and China. Our strategic Lean thinking approach takes organisations beyond simple ‘Lean tools’. We have extensive experience in many sectors including FMCG, Protein Processing, Manufacturing and Service. If you would like to know more about LMAC and how we could assist your organisation’s Lean implementation Contact us
lean performance


The obvious
Quick and simple is not always sustainable, that’s the hard bit. However, on occasion there may be a sudden need to increase performance in a “step” manner. For example, there may be a sudden peak demand on a business that is beyond output capacity. There will always be extra potential in any process, and putting a clear business need for improvement around it may provide an opportunity to create a new benchmark.

The Method (the “what”)
“Measure it, and it will improve” is the baseline concept with truth in it. From our years of experience across many industry sectors, by putting in a performance measure as a starting point, there will be an improvement in results, 20% just happens to be a common outcome. The key is to make the measure simple to understand and relevant to the specific process.

The “how”
Getting people to work harder is definitely NOT the request or approach. Nor is cutting corners with safety and quality. There is however a common human element of focusing in more when things are deemed important. As we focus, wasteful distractions reduce, and we “get the job done”. In terms of the specific Lean approach, it’s the beautifully simple concept of removing waste, but, consider a specific emphasis on motion and waiting. The important ingredient we’re adding here is the measure. If done correctly, adding the measure gives the message that it’s important. People on the process will begin to realise that the new important target is only attainable if they didn’t have to wait for this, and walk to fetch that, and so on.

Some simple steps to follow are:
1) Tell people why
“Call to action” appears to be the latest term doing the rounds. A basic principle it appears to support is that people will generally rally behind a cause if it is clear and generates a sense of urgency.

2) Be a leader
You don’t need to be the most inspirational leader on earth, just make sure the message is clear and that it means something real. Get the team together, explain the business need to improve, do it in a positive way, and ask for their input and support. CEO’s – use this as an opportunity to connect with the teams!

3) Commit to some basics
People fear change, not a headline concept I know. However, the reality remains that most people will know at least one person that has lost their job as a result of change. So what happens if they improve output by 20%? Think this through carefully, decide what the positive outcome will be and stick to it.

4) Lead by example
Get out of the office, look at the results and talk to the workforce in and around the processes – make it clear it’s important. Recognise people’s input and breakthroughs. Small actions go a long way in improving performance.

5) Sustain
Maintaining performance is the hard bit from an organisational and human perspective. However, the sequence and tools bit is fairly straight forward (yet often not followed).

The chances are that there is a significant amount of variation in the work process – for example in the form of output or quality. Variation is the main “Killer” of quality and efficiency. In my experience, the causes of this variation will fall into two buckets:

1) Genuine problems
2) Sloppy practices/behaviours

The initial problem though is that these issues tend to be a murky mixture in one bucket. Sloppy practices/behaviours “hide” behind the genuine problems.

Here’s the thing – fix the genuine problems and the sloppy practices and behaviours have nowhere to hide. In my experience, many of them will stop of their own accord. Complex human issues and performance management can be avoided.

Here is the basic sequence to follow:


In Summary: We firmly believe that it is possible to achieve a quick and simple 20% performance lift by doing the simple things well.
Measure: Follow steps 1 to 5
Control: Prioritise the genuine problems. Fix some easy things, and then apply Root Cause analysis to complex problems
Improve: A good foundation now exists to effectively deploy CI/Kaizen tools and approaches

LMAC are internationally recognised Lean experts with consultants in Australasia, UK and China. Our strategic Lean thinking approach takes organisations beyond simple ‘Lean tools’. We have extensive experience in many sectors including FMCG, Protein Processing, Manufacturing and Service. If you would like to know more about LMAC and how we could assist your organisation’s Lean implementation Contact us
Thinking Lean


Thinking Lean is something I do all the time, it comes with the territory. But at this time of the year I also like to do something else. Take a break and enjoy the very last throws of summer somewhere warm. This year I am lucky enough to be in a small Greek village on the north east coast of Corfu.

This is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Manufacturing or the rigorous demands of FMCG. A laid back place with just 5 tavernas, 2 waterside cafes and a couple of small shops. Not the sort of place you would expect to find good examples of lean processes or practices, however this started me thinking. Could I find any?

Not too surprisingly I found plenty and why wouldn’t there be. This village revolves around tourism, talking to the locals they experience huge swings in tourist volumes and demographic mix throughout the year. They have variation in external factors like the weather and economic factors. Even news articles reporting on the influx of refugees Greece has been experiencing has had a direct impact on the locals.

In many ways this village is exactly like any manufacturing operation or any other type of business. So this is the perfect place to dig in and look for examples of the locals thinking lean.

The story of my Greek Sunday roast

Yes, you heard right. A fantastic Sunday roast, whilst overlooking the cooling waters of the Mediterranean. But what could this possibly do with thinking lean?

Walking through the small village on a Sunday morning, suddenly the owner of a very nice taverna suddenly approached me and shook my hand. This was not so unusual, after all it is a small village that I have visited a number of times. ‘Come on in my friend and I will buy you a drink’. Of course we accepted and as we walked in a sat down he said ‘let me fetch the drinks and then we can talk business’

Business, on a Sunday morning?

He came back, and sat down with us.

‘Now my friend, I have been very busy this morning. I have been into the mountains and collected some very nice lamb. So today we are cooking fresh slow roasted lamb using a traditional recipe that my mother used to use with herbs, spices and roasted potatoes. But I am only offering this to my very best customers’

Bit of a wild tale, going into the mountains, mothers’ recipe etc. but this got me thinking. What is this guy actually doing? Is it just another sales pitch? Or is he thinking a little deeper, he was putting a lot of effort into selling this story. Clearly he was going to use this technique throughout the day on a number of different people.

So let’s look at this from the perspective of the taverna owner.

Local slow cooked Lamb is a well-known Greek dish but for him as the owner it also presents some problems to put on the menu. It is a ‘long lead-time’ item. It takes hours to prepare and cook. The raw materials are very expensive, so if he does not sell it, his scrap cost could offset any profit. His customer base is variable. What time they eat, what they eat and even where they eat is based on a whole series of external factors he can’t control.

I chatted to him about this for a while and it became clear that what he was actually doing was a scaled down version of S&OP planning. Without knowing it he was thinking lean.

He recognised that he needed to align his sales, production and material ordering to maximise his profits. He knew that if he left it until the customers were at the point of actually ordering, he had less chance of influencing the type of main course that the customer would order.

One of the other side benefits he explained to me was that because his target was primarily sell the Lamb dish that evening, orders for other menu items would be reduced. This allowed him to run with less people in the kitchen that night and give some of the staff the night off. Again he was thinking lean by using the S&OP process to plan his staffing.

Without formal training he and all of his staff were thinking Lean. The taverna owner had set very clear targets, all his staff understood the objective and the reasoning. They worked together as one unit to deliver. They were a team.

Many organisations could learn from this very simple example. S&OP planning requires top level targets to be set and all department s to align. All too often I see departments without alignment. I see different departments with completely different metrics. Metrics drive behavior. If you measure the sales department by total value of sales, this does not always align with the process capability of the manufacturing process. Both need to be working in unison, just like my Friendly Greek taverna owner.

Oh, and for the record. The Lamb was fantastic!

LMAC are internationally recognised Lean experts with consultants in Australasia, UK and China. Our strategic Lean thinking approach takes organisations beyond simple ‘Lean tools’. We have extensive experience in many sectors including FMCG, Protein Processing, Manufacturing and Service. If you would like to know more about LMAC and how we could assist your organisation’s Lean implementation Contact us


Why does Lean fail in some organisations and not others? The simple answer is Leadership.  Leadership can make or break a Lean programme. Let’s look at some of the common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

  1. Remember, Leadership is exactly that, Leadership. It cannot be delegated to someone else.

One of the very basic points about Lean that many organisations miss is it will require people to think and perform differently. When asking an organisation to change, Leaders, at all levels, will need to change with it. They will need to become ‘active teachers’.

Singular, clear directions need to be set and communicated from the top down. The message needs to be understood by all heads of departments and more importantly, they need to believe in it.  The senior team needs to be “Engaged”, this means that process improvement activities are in their schedules and that they turn up and attend. It should not be seen as an initiative that is assigned to others.

  1. Don’t forget Middle Management.

Middle managers are notoriously difficult to get on board. They often struggle to see the big picture when faced with both upward and downward pressures. This layer of the structure requires extra attention, because without their support it will be incredibly hard to get Lean thinking embedded into the organisation. They are the ones that talk to the workforce on a day to day basis. They are the ones that turn instructions into actions.

Take time to get the Middle managers on board. Help develop their Leadership skills and help them to understand the need for the Lean approach in their part of the business. If leaders lead, middle managers will follow and the cultural shift will be easier.

  1. Leadership styles are different in a Lean organisation.

Remember, Lean is not only a physical change tool, but also a cultural change model. So by default this means that Leadership styles have to change. Lean Leadership requires a bias for action, a proactive culture. Out goes silo mentality and in comes strong teamwork. In a strong Lean organisation, teams have clear aligned targets and team leaders are expected to measure their own success against those targets. If they are missing them, then they take actions to improve the process in question.

This requires a very different set of leadership skills to what you would expect in a more traditional ‘reactive’ organisation. Leaders will need to be trained and mentored in this new way of thinking. Invest the time and effort and Lean thinking will thrive.

  1. When there is a problem, go to the ‘Gemba’.

The ‘Gemba’ is where the actual work is done. Lean Leaders always observe the actual processes as they are performed, and talk to the people who perform them. They are the ones that know the finer details of how a process is performed and in many cases know the answer to the issue. If they do not know the answer then they always have information that will help solve the problem.  In a Lean organisation issues are not solved on a spreadsheet or in a meeting room.

Genchi gembutsu – go and see the actual event

  1. Communicate, communicate and then communicate again.

Introducing a new initiative like Lean, changing the way people are expected to work is a big undertaking. People are naturally nervous of change and the reasons for it. Make sure that communication is a two way process and listen. As Leaders ensure you over-communicate to offset the natural fear and build confidence.

  1. Learning by doing

Do not fall into the trap of thinking Lean is just another training exercise and that it’s introduction can be achieved by hiring a bunch of consultants to run one day classroom training courses. From a practical stand point most improvement activity is accomplished by using the simple tools from the Lean toolkit. Focus on training people in the discipline of seeing problems from a customer perspective and address them head-on.

The best way by far to get Lean embedded into an organisation is for the Leadership to let people try things. This of course needs to be done in a controlled manner without risk to the business. But sometimes Leaders need to back off and let people try for themselves. Learning by doing promotes a sense of inclusion, ownership and trust. If you do not try, you will not learn.

Quite often, Senior Leadership teams find this incredibly hard to do. This is because it involves letting go of some levels of control and devolving them downwards. But the benefits in adopting this approach far outweigh the negatives. I call this “freedom within a framework”

If you would like to understand how LMAC can help you move your Lean programme to the next level Contact us
Lean Lost in Translation


Although most people know that Lean is a generic term for the Toyota Production System, few people understand how much has been lost in translation. Japan study tours are common these days, and although Toyota allow visits to their sites, only the surface layer can be seen. To the untrained eye, it would be difficult to see tangible differences to a Nissan or Honda factory. In my experience, many people believe Japanese manufacturing is Lean – hence the japan study tours. I believe this to be a symptom of the loss in translation of lean, and the ongoing general focus on the “lean tools” rather than the “lean mind set”.

Are all Lean systems equal, or are some more equal than others?

I recently heard a comment from a governing body that in effect, the Nissan Production System and the Toyota Production system are “the same thing”.

Really?   Let’s not forget, in recent history, Nissan reportedly came very close to bankruptcy, and sold a significant shareholding to the Renault organisation. On the other hand, Toyota has been one of the few financially stable car manufacturers throughout its history.

I’ve conducted a couple of study tours myself recently to take a look at the different “takes” on Lean that have evolved.  One thing stood out very clearly – they generally fall into 1 of 2 generic groups:

  • Lean Tools Orientation

If I’m going to hear the saying “we’ve done lean”, then it will be an organisation in this group.  Yes, the key tools have been implemented at some point with varying degrees of uptake by the process operators.  Some tools, such as “stand-up” meeting boards are often coated with dust, displaying a distant historic date and old information that serves as a reminder of the failure of their Lean Programme.  Even a half trained eye can see masses of waste around the processes and massive opportunities for improvement. However, advice is not wanted in some of these organisations, “don’t talk to me about that Lean stuff and car manufacturing approach” has been blurted out to me on several occasions.

  • Lean Principles Orientation

These organisations seem to get it.  They’re sometimes the organisations that have been less hasty to jump in and “do that lean thing”.  They have taken the time to think about things and are confident that the Lean principles stand up well to logic and reason.  Some of them don’t have the flashiest 5S boards and andon systems yet, but they are doing the basics really well.

So in answer to my own question, it is clear that all Lean systems are not equal.  Some, in fact, are just poorly introduced tools.

So, what needs to be done?

This depends upon the organisation’s maturity level.  For those that are still in a tools frame of mind, I would advise reading up on the lean principles and challenging them at a senior leadership team level.  Do they stand up to reason?  Wouldn’t these principles enhance your organisation even though you don’t make cars?

For those that answer yes, then consider the following steps:

  • Start with “why”. Be very clear to the whole organisation why it needs to take a different approach and embrace the lean principles.
  • Empower the organisation to deliver. Not adhoc training courses or sheep dip training, but strategic people development.
  • Lead people to do the basics well every day. Relentlessly reinforce the lean principles and then hold people accountable for results delivery.

Remember, if lean fails it’s because it’s been “done” wrong.

7 wastes


Most people that have been involved in Lean will be familiar with the principles that waste exists to some degree in every single activity we perform. Whether it is at work or in our day to day business. And in order to improve our processes and become Lean, we must remove waste.

Most will also be aware that in general waste is split in 7 types or categories:

  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting
  • Over Production
  • Over Processing
  • Defects

Normally remembered by the acronym TIM WOOD.

But my question is this, how many realise that this is only part of the big picture in understanding ‘waste’, its effects and how to address it. TIM WOOD can only help us so far along our Lean journey.

To fully understand this we need to go back a step and really try to understand some of the core fundamentals of Lean. Let’s start at the very beginning and understand why the removal of wastes within processes is judged so important.

The single most important factor in developing a lean process is the ‘Voice of the customer’. Understanding what the customer needs, in what volume, and when it is needed.

Having understood this, the next step is to develop a system that will deliver to the customer needs on time, to the correct quality, in the right volume. Sounds simple but this is where the problems start. If the process is not flexible enough to meet the changes in customer demand, inefficiencies creep in and hence the level of waste within the process grow.

This is where most peoples understanding (including many lean practitioners) of waste starts to break down.

You may have heard the term ‘Muda’. Muda translated from Japanese is Waste. However this is only part of the story.

When Taiichi Ohno, Sakichi Toyoda, and Kiichiro Toyoda, originally set out to develop the Toyota production system, they recognised that the root causes of waste in a process were much deeper than many consider today.

They defined 3 types of waste, MUDA, MURA and MURI

What has happen is that Muda has been given much greater attention since over time it has been well defined into the 7 categories I mentioned earlier. Because of this, many Lean practitioners have learned to see just Muda, they fail to see in the same prominence the wastes of Mura (unevenness) and Muri (overburden). Whilst they are focused on getting their process under control they do not give enough time or consider to the impact of the other two types of waste.

So let’s take time to consider both Mura and Muri.

Mura or unevenness occurs at a number of levels within a process and needs to be taken into account when ‘Just in time’ is being put in place. Consider this, what happens when we reduce or remove inventory (one of our 7 classic wastes)?

Well, now that the safety buffer has been removed, the process will be put under strain to deliver in a much more responsive way. The entire value chain will be asked to flex up and down in speed. The impact of this change can be devastating to the organisation. Manning levels have to be adjusted (If cost and efficiency are to be maintained), Suppliers will be asked to change delivery schedules at short notice. Maintenance schedules may need to be changed. In fact a whole plethora of issues arise and all take time to manage. Also, because of the need to produce at peak volume at any time, in theory equipment, workers, inventory and all other elements required for production must always be prepared for peak production. This adds both cost and waste.

Unless systems and processes are put in place to do this, waste starts to creep back into the process.

Toyota considered this in the development of the Toyota production system. It took it into account with the concept of Heijunka or production smoothing. The concept of Heijunka may at first appear to contradict the ‘Just in time’ and lean production philosophies. But it must be remembered that done correctly small amounts of well managed strategic stock will both aid efficiency and lower overall cost.

In general, the concept of Heijunka is to try and smooth the production rate within acceptable limits. There are a number of tools and tricks to this which are again linked to the original thoughts behind the Toyota production system.

For example, Toyota’s final assembly line never assembles the same automobile model in a batch. Production is levelled by making first one model, then another model, then yet another. The pattern or order of the 3 models is then adjusted to smooth the daily rate based on customer demand (take time). This flexibility is one of the key reasons for having a mixed model process. But in order to achieve this Standard, work must be well defined and implemented otherwise the waste of ‘MURI’ will be the issue.

Muri or overburden, generally occurs when Standard work is not well defined or when additional tasks have been placed upon someone through a process change without consideration to their other workload or line balance.

Within most companies it is the case, but the importance of Standard Work cannot be underestimated. A smooth process with well trained people has a number of other benefits. When everyone knows the standard condition, and the standardised work sequences, heightened morale is seen. Normally along with improved quality, improved productivity and reduced costs.

So when you are next observing a process for waste, look a little deeper. Look for the 3 M’s consider MURA and MURI and think deeper than just the classic 7 wastes.

Want to know more ?

If you would like to know more about Muda, Mura, and Muri or would like to know how LMAC could help your business with its Lean programme   Contact us