In the current economic climate, organisations are being challenged to deliver the same outputs at a significantly lower cost. Lean can make this possible by focusing on value adding activities and eliminating waste. Applying Lean should cause some discomfort as an organisation goes beyond its present state, but should not cause permanently damaging pain.
What is Lean?
Lean is a systematic, continuous improvement philosophy that focuses activities on reducing waste while aligning processes to customer / service user value. It is different from other improvement efforts in several key ways – it takes a customer perspective and involves employees in continual improvement and problem solving. It deploys a rapid continuous improvement framework and emphasises implementation rather than prolonged planning. Real time decision- making and problem solving is improved through using metrics and visual controls to provide rapid feedback.
Lean is a Philosophy, a Set of Tools and a Management Culture. It can be applied anywhere along the spectrum from implementing a selection of tools for a specific problem to a transformational full Lean Process, and as our case studies show, we have experience of a wide variety of applications
Why should Lean cause discomfort?
Lean challenges existing ways of doing things and people’s attitudes, and can be highly counter-intuitive. It highlights waste in the process and the typically tiny proportion of workload that the customer values. This can be very unsettling for the team who may feel the waste in the existing processes is a criticism of them as individuals or as a team. It is a different way of thinking which puts management at the heart of the process. A Lean transformation addresses the business culture including corporate climate, management culture, employee engagement, improvement skills and performance measurement of the organisation.
There should be discomfort when following a Lean journey as people at all levels will be challenged and stretched to behave and think differently and migrate to new ways of working. If there is no discomfort, then people are not being sufficiently challenged to change significantly and reap the benefits.
However, people cannot just be told to develop new ways of thinking and working – Lean tools help with this as they make it easier to do the right things right. For example Information Centres and 5S Visual Management encourage change by providing daily cues that require people to behave differently from day one. Over time, this leads to them developing new ways of thinking and aids the transition towards a new culture.
“It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking, than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting.”
If the discomfort in the Lean approach turns into pain, there is a risk that resistance to change could increase, staff could leave and the organisation could decide not to continue with the change programme. Here are our three top tips to avoid this happening:
- Ensure frequent good communications to staff and stakeholders
- Keep staff fully involved from the outset
- Have an achievable and consensual action plan for implementation