Are you just masquerading as a Lean Organisation?

Sep 18, 2019

Is everything that we see really as we think it is? It’s important to see reality not just what we want to.

Coincidentally, I have been speaking with a number of Lean Improvement practitioners recently in different Organisations about CI culture and what that actually means.

They all had one thing in common. That was, the question of how well they were achieving it and how they could measure its creation.

It was clear from taking a walk around their workplaces that there was evidence of Lean practice in place. I saw visual management, rooms full of post-it notes, a couple of value stream maps, an incredibly comprehensive 5s office organisation program and talked to CI team members who provided examples of waste reduction that they had led.

All of this suggested that these Organisations were taking great strides down the path to Lean maturity. Or at least this is how it appeared.

When I started my personal journey with Lean thinking, I used to walk the production floor with the cell leaders who would talk to me about the introduction of new, faster, machines. They would show me the monitoring of quality levels and maintenance programmes. They pointed out, with pride, the new signage and work instructions hanging above every machine. It looked good.

And there was the problem – it looked good.

As a young engineer who was starting to understand Lean I would nod at the work done and agree it looked good but as my thinking developed I started to note the work between machines, the amount of time that Operators were actually working on the products, the materials around the cell, the amount of extra work required to make things right.

What I was witnessing then, like I witness now in offices as well as shop floors are workplaces that are trying hard to implement Lean, without really knowing what that means.

I have been to Organisations that tell me they are “at least 65% Lean” I’m unsure what that even means.

CI culture is not created by the implementation of Lean tools and so cannot be measured by their use. I could tell you of workplaces that are outstanding to look at, yet are failing. I could tell you of workplaces that look nothing special at all, yet are performing at world class levels.

Culture is created with beliefs, attitudes and values. It is these things that drive true Lean transformation. It is the behaviours of the Leadership then that drives this not posters on the wall or measurements on how many ‘Lean events’ have been completed.

Ask yourself, honestly, do you, like I do, have the belief that Lean is the way? Are the Leadership and their team members displaying the attitudes that underpin this and are the values of the organisation aligned to this achieve performance in a least wasteful way. It is only when you can answer positively to this that you can start to think about utilising any Lean tools.