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The Power of Lean Part IV: Moving Forward


In this conclusion to my series on Lean (see Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 for earlier instalments), we’re looking at a recommended approach for moving ahead with this powerful concept.

An approach for moving ahead with Lean

There is no one best way to move forward with Lean. Like any improvement or business change program, the unique circumstances and culture of an organization need to be taken into account in the development of ago-forward strategy and action plan.

Generally speaking, however, we recommend taking the following approach:

Confirm senior leadership support: If your organization’s leadership team is not committed to supporting an improvement and change initiative that is more than a one-off project, then stop what you’re doing.Until this level of support is in place, the probability of success is virtually zero. To ensure this level of support is achieved and sustained, the leadership team needs to invest in some industrial tourism and Lean education.Consider taking the time to visit and connect with other organizations that have adopted a Lean approach. Books and whitepapers will never replace the impact of seeing firsthand the impact of Lean and talking to other leaders who are venturing down the Lean path.

Take the time to set a strategic improvement course: As much as Lean is about eliminating waste, there is nothing more wasteful than investing limited resources and time to improve a process that does little to increase the performance of the overall organization. As the saying goes, there is little to be gained by shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic. It is critical that improvement energy and resources be focused on real problems and on areas of the organization where improvement will have a meaningful impact. Not only is this the best use of limited resources, but staff and managers will quickly lose enthusiasm for the Lean journey if they are forced to spend time working on processes and problems that are relatively unimportant.

Be sure to take the time up front to examine the overall organization and to identify those areas where improved performance will have the greatest overall impact.

Engage your change agents: As with any change or improvement initiative, it is important to involve staff and managers who naturally embrace change and have a can-do attitude. Lean works best when those involved have the mindset of, “Of course we can reduce lead times by 80%,” instead of those who would rather proclaim the progress-crushing phrase, “We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work.”

Engage a team in a focused Lean process improvement event: This phase is about the hands-on involvement of staff and managers directly engaged in the target process in the assessment of the current state and the development of improvement actions. By means of group events where the process is mapped and all the issues, problems and bottlenecks are identified, the team works through a structured process to identify root causes of performance issues and develop improvement actions and implementation plans. The approach is highly collaborative, transparent and action-oriented — this is not about producing reports or lengthy PowerPoint presentations.

Implement, and then finetune: As described in Part 2, Lean is not about one-off improvement efforts and then back to business as usual.Instead, Lean is about assessing the impact of improvement actions and then taking further action to finetune the improved process to ensure benefits are achieved and sustained.

Learn from the improvement effort, and spread the word: As much as gaining real, meaningful improvement is the primary objective, another important objective of Lean is to grow and develop internal capability to practise continuous improvement. A Lean organization takes the time to reflect on its improvement efforts and to ask, “How can we be better next time?” Again,the better the organization becomes at practising Lean improvement, the more successful it will be at streamlining processes and achieving meaningful benefit.

As always, the devil is in the details. This blog series has provided an overview of what Lean is, how it can help organizations gain much-needed productivity and capacity and recommended steps to start down the Lean path. However, the real work lies in effectively navigating the Lean journey and dealing with the challenges of achieving significant organizational change and improvement.

MNP’s Performance Improvement consulting team has been in the business of helping organizations achieve higher levels of productivity and unlock hidden capacity for many years. In addition to our Lean Black Belt expertise, our team brings a wide breadth of process and organizational improvement experience and tactics to our clients. Let’s talk about how your organization can best move forward on its Lean performance improvement journey.