We Labelled some stuff, that’s lean, right?

Erm… no. Wrong. Now before I go on to give a better outline. I must say to the person who said this to me. I like you and don’t be angry I quoted you albeit anonymously. 

I hear this a lot and I mean a lot. People mistake application of a lean tool here and there as “doing and “being” lean. I can say honestly it is better than doing nothing for sure but it is definitely not lean.

So what is lean? Well from my view which I expect is well aligned with those who are much more sage like than I is that lean is about constantly striving to be a more productive organisation. Respecting your firm’s resources in order to deliver the maximum amount of value to the customer. Then the following day, trying to deliver more!

I think it is important for people to remember this and prioritise understanding this concept before anything else. See my previous post on the topic. If we keep this in mind it helps to drive the correct behaviours from the top to the bottom of the organisation, every day. And that must be a good thing.

The frustrating part of working with this is the general lack of understanding or “buy-in” we can face. I recently was talking to a friend who was moaning about how his engineers do not have time to do all the work at his customer than he would like them to do. He was begging his customer to pay for a third full time onsite engineer. Obviously the customer refused as my friend could not show the benefit of the third person. His mind was in the state that the only solution to getting things better was to add resources. In order to try and get him to think differently I asked him, how was he respecting his two engineers who were currently onsite full time? His response was typical, that he paid them. We discussed this at length. After a resolution of views we then turned to more practical means. What do the two current guys do at the moment. What value are they adding to the customer. I suggested he breakdown the work they do into value and none value added time to the customer. We could then focus on the waste. I am waiting for the results and we will see how it goes!

I will continue the story above as it develops as I think it will be an interesting learning for my friend with some good reflections. 


To conclude this post, please take a more principled look at lean and not focus on the tools. They are the mean to the end which is not to be lean but to be always striving to be more lean than you were yesterday.


Promises promises

So I know I have been promising to have a post on here about lean versus lean start-up and it is in the works I promise. The thing is that the more I read about lean start-up and comparing it with lean the more I appreciate it as a model and I therefore want to do it as much justice as possible when I write about it. I think Eric Ries has produced a truly commendable piece of work and it is not often I say that about people in general. The wait will be worth it and to keep you all interested in the meantime I have saved up a few rants that I will write up this afternoon.



Where to start being lean. The real lean startup?

When taking an organisation that has absolutely no concept of what lean or even “best practice operations” is, where do you start? For the record I like to call these types of organisations “Germans”. I am joking of course (not much). The most challenging organisations I have worked have been German and Chinese. German organisations are fairly typical in my experience of being extremely ERP (read: SAP) orientated with very complex planning systems that never seem to reflect the reality of what is going on in production. They then spend all their time “managing” the difference and not really understanding what went wrong. Back to my original question, where do you start if this is the case for you? Or as a consultant you are called into start a “lean transformation” or something like that?

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 Melvin before writing about it. (Melvin is my fascinatingly geeky 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 led internally. 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!