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From Concept to Action: Getting Started with Lean


In his blog series The Power of Lean, MNP’s Bruce Marsh explained how Lean can help organizations gain much-needed productivity and capacity. Rodrigue Gilbert then followed up by providing important insights into how Lean harnesses the discipline of innovation. Both of my colleagues have provided valuable advice on how to leverage Lean in delivering innovative solutions to common business problems. I will now help guide you from concept to action and share recommendations for selecting your area of focus (AKA common business problem) so you can have a positive Lean experience and deliver successful results.

Lean success starts with a clear vision

Jim Womack, from the Lean Enterprise Institute, illustrates the concept of “selection for success” in a nice metaphor: “Just as a carpenter needs a vision of what to build in order to get the full benefit of a hammer, Lean Thinkers need a vision before picking up Lean tools.” In other words, selecting for success requires clear goals.

Where do you start? What do you want to accomplish? The following questions have successfully guided many Lean practitioners:

• What is the purpose of the organization or department?
• What are the primary goals?

Just as Womack describes, it is important to fully understand the key purpose of the organization or department about to embark on its first Lean exercise. Does it exist to deliver a service or a product? If so, what are the goals? Timely delivery? Quality? Maximizing quantity?

As you identify the purpose and primary goals of the organization or department, it becomes a lot easier to discern the problems that are preventing goal achievement.

Identifying the problems

Problems will likely be found in the key processes that you will work to improve. Ask the following questions:

• What are the key processes within the organization or department?
• What are the metrics used to measure the process results? Can you confirm the problems with objective results?

Start with a process that is repeatable, happens regularly and is tied to meeting customers’ needs. Ideal processes to focus on are those that consume more resources (people, time, money) than are required and that seem overly complex for their end deliverables. Also keep in mind that several interrelated processes might be involved in fulfilling the organization’s or department’s purpose, and it is important to problem solve in more than one process. Doing so will deliver improvements in stages across multiple processes to yield results both individually and collectively.

The way in which the process is measured also helps identify where problems reside. Performance metrics provide important information to guide your efforts and gauge results. You may need to select a different metric than what is currently used—it is common for a process to be measured through output as opposed to outcome metrics. You want to look for metrics that will guide the right corrective action when the results come in. Think about it this way: Is it obvious what to do or where the problem lies, when the metric results are delivered?

Select the right area of focus to move from concept to action with Lean

Getting started with Lean offers enormous opportunity for growth, engagement and results. Selecting the right area of focus is an important first step to getting the results you want and building engagement for continued learning and development with Lean. Use the above approach to guide your first steps in moving from concept to action.