Having spent almost 25 years working around Lean and implementing Lean in many organisations, I have learnt some very important and key lessons, admittedly some of these the hard way.
But the key is that my experience is born, by doing. If you do not try something you will not learn.
Lean is a very powerful philosophy, a way to do business in a way that works for the customer, the senior management team and most importantly, the employees. It will work in any organisation, if it is properly understood and the ‘why we are doing this’ is clear.
This is not an extensive list, but in my experience these are some of the most important points to consider.
- Lean is a powerful strategic weapon, not a tool kit
Many Leaders and organisations look at Lean as a process to ‘rip out cash’ or a process to ‘remove low hanging fruit’, both phrases I have heard many times. Many view Lean as a set of ‘tools’ that can be used to respond to short term pressures that a business may be facing. In fact I have heard many consultants use these words in their sales pitch. Some even ‘guarantee specific savings within 12 months’ by focusing on the ‘low hanging fruit’. A very attractive proposition if you are under pressure to deliver savings. But what about year 2, year 3 or beyond, what happens when all the low hanging fruit has gone? What happens when the layoffs have happened and the workforce has lost faith in Lean? Where do you go from there? Find a new ‘magic bullet’?
The real power of Lean lies in developing a culture of long term improvement and constantly challenging the norm. This will only happen when the culture of a business looks to everyone to help. Physical change should be looked at as the outcome of this process.
- Implementing Lean is not easy. If it was everyone would be doing it.
Developing or changing the cultural style of a business, the way it looks at problems and asks questions of itself, is hard work. It requires the development of a management style that is both proactive and listening. A lot of decision making needs to be done at board level before any Lean implementation takes place. There will be, and should be a lot of questions asked before committing to the development of a Lean organisation. Leaders need to be 100% behind the process and be prepared to lead from the front. A cliché I know, but it is the role of a leader to ‘lead’ not criticise or back bite.
Only when all the senior team are talking as one, will the trust of the workforce be gained and the power of Lean be seen. This Process takes a great deal of effort. Be sure you are clear about this. However for the organisations that have the strength and vision, the rewards far outstrip the initial pain.
- Think about the ‘Why’ not the ‘How’ and ‘What’
Strategically think about ‘Why’ we want to do this. It does not start with the ‘How’ best to fix a problem or ‘what’ are the returns. Of course these are important, but being able to explain to everyone involved ‘Why’ we are embarking on this journey in clear simple terms, will win trust and belief that the process has been thought out at the highest level. Lean needs to be linked to the vision of the organisation, its core values, not just it’s ‘numbers’. In short it needs to be the ‘way we do business’
- Lean is a journey, not a race or a competition.
Do not view becoming a lean organisation as something you can achieve overnight. As much as you think your organisation has the skills and the power to do this quickly, it does not. Companies like Toyota set 10 year targets and visions to improve and grow, not 3 year plans with unachievable stretch goals. And they already have the Lean culture in place. Companies do not become world class overnight. To beat your competition use lean strategically to help build strong foundations for long term growth
- Lean is about learning by doing.
One of the biggest issues that many organisations face is blame culture. Part of the cultural shift that needs to be achieved is removing that culture of ‘fear’ and replacing it with a style that gives permission for people to experiment and learn. To make mistakes from time to time is good, so long are you learning from it.
- Use the expertise of a consultant to accelerate the process, not as a crutch.
Use experts to help you in the initial stages, invest in knowledge and experience. The right consultant will provide you with a depth of experience in starting the deployment process off in a controlled manner and will act as a sounding board for ideas. In my experience, having someone who is ‘neutral’ helps the senior management team cut through internal politics and reach consensus on direction. A good Lean consultant will also coach, not lead your organisation along the way. But do not rely on them longer term. Plan to put a framework in place to develop internal skills and knowledge.