Where to start being lean?

When taking an organisation that has absolutely no concept of what lean or even “best practice operations” is, where do you start? Or as a consultant you are called into start a “lean transformation” or something like that?

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There are as many answers to this question as there are lean consultants in the world. Let us explore some of the more popular ones.

  • Understand your value streams first. We can call this the Womack approach. From what I have read and have heard this is the LEI general way to go about creating a lean transformation. I have never been able to convince a company to take this approach of identifying value streams, asserting management of the value streams and then driving those horizontally across the organisation. It is too big a pill to swallow at the beginning. I cannot help but think that if you could, it would be the most successful way to start.
  • Map your processes. Now, some might say this is the same as above. But it is not. Processes and value streams do not correlate well with one another. This could go back into the age old argument of what came first the process or the value stream but I need to finish that off with Irwin before writing about it. (Irwin is my fascinating American friend). So map your processes, then start to understand where they are going wrong. Work to make them more reliable (less output variation = better quality), available (better PTU) etc. Sounds like it could be sensible approach doesn’t it. The issue here is that you are completely ignoring how productive you are and what value there is being produced. You will become obsessed with perfecting your processes very quickly without considering what is outside.
  • Start small, show an example of good practice and then spread. I used to do this. This was my preferred method and I have had some success with it as well. For example, I had a supplier who was just in chaos. They worked hard but definitely not smart. The first thing that struck you when you visited was what a mess the place was. They said this was a consequence of their work. I disagreed. I showed them pictures and video of other production environments in far dirtier industries and then I went through the theory, application and positive results of implementing 5S. They seemed to be pretty convinced but wanted to pilot it first. So we took one small area of the factory where my parts were made and we implemented 5S in that area. We ensured that the senior management understood what good should look like and set up and auditing system for the MD daily. Everyday he went down and asked questions of what they were doing. Within a week the guys in the area next to it had got jealous of the attention and quality of the workspace that they started doing it themselves. Within 6 months the entire factory had gone through a 5S transformation and the SAP system could show the increase in productivity that had been achieved. Now this was not world class levels of 5S, it was more just cleaning stuff and applying labels but it showed how things can easily improve with the right attention. I am not advocating this method. Just putting it forward as an option. The downside of this is that it is rarely sustained well and only usually impacts small areas at a time leaving the big gains untouched.
  • Educate all management levels on lean. This one I like. One of the barriers to lean implementation (I would rather call it a lean organisation), is that a lot of people do not believe in it. Once they really see it working in a good way they usually get it but then they can find it hard to apply the principles to their own area. A recommended way to start then is by educating all management levels, together, about lean. Why is lean used, why it is beneficial and how to understand what value streams etc are. You then look to the organisation itself to take the principles and apply them directly. I can only think that this is probably the most painful way to start the lean journey but as long as management remain committed the business case will come as the improvements develop. I have not seen this approach ever proposed or used however. Why? I don’t know honestly.

So that is just some thoughts from me on how to start a lean journey. Please note the journey never ends so you need to be very committed. I look forward to your comments!

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Some thoughts on being better

I had some discussions the other day with a colleague and I think some people might find these useful. All comments appreciated as always. Please forgive any spelling mistakes or strange formatting, I am writing this using the WordPress app for the first time. I will check it and fix any mistakes later.

You rarely have too little information. Honestly. You probably have way to much, most of which is completely irrelevant. Be careful of this as people can use irrelevant but similar information to cloud rationality to meet their own agenda.

A good lessons learnt session is very hard. I don’t know anyone who can do them! I can’t. We can all sit round and have a coffee and a chat but if nothing changes where is the value? Get a pro in to help you and execute the actions immediately and vigorously.

No one loves your product more than you do. Stop loving your product and yourself and start loving your customer instead. As my ex girlfriend taught me (as she was breaking up with me), loving someone doesn’t just mean you go round telling them you love them. It means that you pay attention to the small things that add up to the big difference. That requires listening but mostly you have to care before you can listen properly. If you don’t care…. Don’t start. Want to know how to do it properly? Read Matt Watkinson’s book, you can buy it here.

Do not rush.. Ever. I can guarantee you, it will not end well. No one rushes and wins. This includes not skipping steps! In routes or methodologies we have the steps in an order for a reason, if we ignore these in our modern world we may as well go back to building axes from flint. I’m not recommending you sit around drinking coffee and eating cake all day instead of working, that will only give you a belly and a headache. Just be methodical in how you work and do not cut corners.

You work in quality, you are the example. Similar to the point above. Be the example, live the example. Follow the methodology correctly, do the root cause analysis properly, test things thoroughly before releasing, I could go on.

Quality costs, but not in the way you think. Everyone moans at me about how working in structured “quality ways” takes longer. I’m here to tell you all, it doesn’t. No more complicated than that. I see examples every week that if those involved had used a correct method to address a quality issue they would have spent magnitudes less time and money . Stop pretending it takes time. Learn how to do it without thinking and admit that the cost is more brain power. If you don’t have that, admit it and get help from colleagues.

How many is that? 6. Damn it’s nearly dinner time.

Always promote the team. Maybe I am drifting into generality here, or perhaps I did a long time ago. If you want to start solving problems good team work is essential. Problem solving teams are rarely high functioning as they are usually adhoc. You therefore need to be very conscious of applying good team work behavior from the start. If you don’t know about the life cycle of team dynamics and what I mean by high functioning teams get googling and do some reading. I’m too nice

Change management is common sense. Or is it? I thought so initially but then if we need people to tell us how to do it right, how can it be common sense? I like it personally and I think following models like that from Kotter do help a lot, if it is good enough for NASA….

And finally!

read my blog religiously. I don’t believe in religion but if you do I am happy for you. It’s a plug, yes, and maybe I have short changed you a part of the list. We will both get over it though

What are your tips and thoughts?