Realising Benefits From Your Investment In Lean


The only reason for an organisation to invest in Lean (or similar methodology) is to generate business benefits. The benefits expected are most commonly financial in nature but could also include for example improved customer service, increased productivity or safer processes. Lean is structured common sense and provides individuals and organisations with a clear methodology to help them transform culture and improve performance.

A Lean Organisation can be simply described as one that successfully generates significant benefits from their investment in Lean over an extended period. In addition, the Lean Organisation will have very specific behaviours that support the use of Lean and the adoption of new, more effective, processes, along with widespread staff engagement.

Organisations such as these will see Lean as integral to their overall strategy and will invest time in engaging and developing their staff, selecting and managing projects and continuously improving the way they do things. These organisations will also be able to collaborate effectively with suppliers, customers and other partners as required by projects. Culturally these organisations are not afraid to try new things and managers encourage their teams to challenge the status quo, strive for perfection and continuously improve every aspect of the work they do. In addition front-line staff see it as vital to not just 'do their job' but to contribute to improving the whole organisation.

Although a deep understanding of the tools of Lean are important, a Lean Organisation is not delivered through the application of individual tools but through the behaviours of its leaders and the way that they deploy Lean across the whole organisation. The behaviours and processes needed to create a Lean Organisation forms the basis of this article.

Aligning your organisation

Lean should be integral to your overall strategy. If it is treated as a tactical issue or simply 'something else to be done' then it will not generate the management interest needed to ensure success. There is a need for senior teams to develop a consistent message for Lean including how it fits into the overall strategic picture, what the expectations are for it in the short, medium and long term and how the organisation will approach Lean. This means undertaking a number of very specific actions that are described below.

- Integrate Lean into your strategic plans

Lean shouldn't be seen as 'something else to be done'. Ideally you would want it to be seen as 'the way we do things around here'. Even if you don't want to base all of your improvement efforts on Lean there is still a need to integrate your expectations for Lean within your overall strategy.

- Leader Standard Work

Another consideration is how Lean will manifest itself on a day to day basis through the organisation. For example, you might hold daily front-line team meetings at which improvements and issued are raised and tackled, a weekly supervisors/managers meeting to discuss local improvement projects and a monthly steering board. In addition, you should consider how you will communicate Lean on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, perhaps through the combination of information centres, newsletters and briefings. Leader Standard Work is the concept that considers how you will manage your Lean programme on a day to day, week to week and month to month basis.

- Consistency & Commitment

Having integrated Lean into your strategy and planned how you will manage Lean on an on-going basis there are two other issues that need to be done to ensure that your organisation is aligned behind Lean. One is to ensure that your senior team speak consistently about the objectives for Lean and how it will be deployed and the second is to demonstrate commitment to the process. The issue of commitment means allocating time, resources, people and effort to Lean activities, for example ensuring that people are released to participate in Lean events, senior leaders taking time to 'show up' at activities, participating in steering group sessions etc.

One of the most important aspects of demonstrating commitment is how senior leaders respond when resistance is encountered or when things do not happen as expected. Remaining calm and committed to Lean during these periods will demonstrate to front-line staff that this is not a short term experiment that can be easily derailed.

- Engaging your team

Related to the issue of aligning your organisation is the need to engage your team in the process of going Lean. When you first start out your workforce will break into three groups;

    Advocates- those who are positive about the challenges and look forward to 'going Lean'.

    Agnostics- those who are not too bothered either way and are simply looking for leadership, wherever that comes from.

    Antibodies- those who are against the process and demonstrate this either through passive resistance (not turning up to activities and not participating even if they do) or active resistance (raising complaints and trying to turn others against the Lean programme).

Engaging all of these groups is essential to the long-term success of your Lean programme. Part of this can be achieved by communicating your objectives and being open and honest (and consistent) about them. Further engagement is achieved by choosing some pilot projects to tackle and actually implementing Lean in limited areas within your organisation. A third aspect of engagement is listening to the concerns raised by individuals and dealing with the genuine ones, whilst avoiding being diverted by red herrings and distracting 'flares'.

Building your knowledge base

Whilst there may be a need to utilise external support during the early stages of a Lean implementation, the objective should always be to bring the expertise in house and to develop your own team to enable them to lead your Lean activities.

Building your internal knowledge base is concerned with creating an organisation capable of self-sustaining Lean and consists of the activities shown in the following sections.

- Creating a cadre of expertise

Your cadre of expertise might need to include a lead body, such as a Lean Team, who are responsible for training others and initiating major projects. These are your 'Black Belts', 'Senseis' or whatever else you choose to call them. Other people, called Practitioners, will normally have Lean as a topic to do alongside their day jobs.

Practitioners will be expected to initiate smaller projects and support larger projects with your Lean Team.

Finally, you should consider widespread Lean Awareness training to get the message 'under the skin' of the organisation.

- Creating a knowledge bank

You will probably have lots of information about Lean tools already available and there should be a drive to firstly create a repository where Lean information can be kept and secondly to introduce consistency into the information recorded. This means creating case study templates to share knowledge about what has been achieved, creating training packs to give to new staff and 'pruning' information until you have a set of materials (slides, checklists and templates) that meet the needs of your organisation.

- Visits, information & best practice sharing

Wherever possible you should share useful articles with your colleagues, take advantage of visits to see other organisations participating in Lean and attend conferences to hear the experiences from a wide range of people. This is part of continuously improving your knowledge base whilst at the same time avoiding stagnation or complacency in your organisation's own approach.

Delivering Lean successfully

Of course, the whole purpose of implementing Lean is to deliver improved performance. Whilst the concepts of Lean can seem very easy 'in the head' they can be much harder to achieve 'in the hand'. Delivering Lean successfully means husbanding your resources, making the best use of your team, focusing on delivery and then following up after you have made changes. Some of the issues that will ensure you deliver Lean successfully are covered in the following sections.

- Screen projects

There will come a time very early on in your Lean journey, and again after about two years, when you will be flooded with ideas for potential Lean projects. You will need to work hard to 'deselect' projects that are not core to your organisation (I call them 'painting the toilet' projects), are not supported or simply will not generate a big enough return on your investment of time and resources. Selecting the right projects, and then scoping them effectively so you are clear about your overall objectives, is a key success factor for your Lean programme.

- Use your Lean expertise effectively

Often the expertise provided by a 'Lean Team' is confused with the role of a Project Manager. Instead of your Lean Team being used to help support managers to deliver projects across the organisation they are given the direct responsibility for the delivery of Lean projects, even though they don't own the budget or people needed to ensure success. Don't make this elementary mistake.

- Implement Lean 'everyday'

In addition to your 'big ticket' Lean projects, there is a need for Lean to become part of the day to day activity within the organisation. Whilst there is some overlap with Leader Standard Work that we discussed earlier, this is called 'Managing for Daily Improvement' (MDI) and is important for both embedding change after you have completed a project and also ensuring that teams get into the habit of continuously reviewing and improving what they do everyday. The four elements of MDI are;

    Establish visual 'Information Centres' containing details of performance, projects and other team related information.
    Practice MBWA (Management By Walking About) and get your leaders at all levels to show an active interest in the challenges faced by front-line staff.
    Hold regular team meetings which can take the form of shift start/end meetings, toolbox talks, handovers or something similar.
    Create a process to enable people to log issues and concerns and have them dealt with on a regular basis.

- A robust process is more important than tools

It is more important to the overall success of Lean to have a robust process than it is to worry about whether you are undertaking a SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Die) project exactly 'as per the book'. A Lean process will often commence with some form of scoping and involve such things as Value Stream Mapping, 2P/3P Events etc, depending on what you are attempting to achieve. In addition, your Lean process will also need to describe how you will communicate Lean, the way you will manage the programme and how you will develop your team.

Defining the Lean process for your organisation will provide a structure that everyone will come to understand and ultimately will ensure that Lean becomes 'the way we do things around here'.

Article Source: Mark Eaton

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