Stay True to the Principles of Lean

Whilst we know that everyone hasn’t yet realised that Lean is a critical success factor when it comes to organisation performance, fortunately there are a lot of people who do have the message and are running their own Lean programmes.

This is great news and I admire everyone that is striving to make their organisation a better place in terms of customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and operational results.

However, with this proliferation of programmes we are also experiencing a proliferation of lean experts. This is actually a good thing and is absolutely necessary in order for organisations to have access to their own resource to achieve lean transformation.

However, there is a health warning here. With every new expert there comes the risk of a new approach. Variations to the way that people are taught, which techniques are used, how programmes are run and how benefits are delivered.

Again, this can be a good thing which has meant that Lean is very much accepted as applicable to all organisations and not just limited to ‘lean manufacturing’ as was the case just one decade ago.

However, with each tweak and change we need to ensure that we don’t lose sight of the key principles which make Lean as successful as it should be. If we stray too far then Value Stream / Kaizen events run the risk of just becoming facilitated problem solving events rather than true Lean focussed improvements.

It’s absolutely key that any programme should be flexible to organisational and individual needs.  That’s one of the things that differentiate successful programmes from struggling, rigid, and usually underperforming programmes. However, what we have found is that it’s critical not to compromise the vital few elements which make lean successful.

We all know the Lean principles, however as an example of this potential to “stray from the path”, the one principle that is most often ignored or abused is “flow”.

Is Lean flow clear and apparent in your processes?  This doesn’t just mean having a layout drawing showing the direction of flow through the operation. Have we really understood what it is that flows, be it physical or virtual and then organised the processes so that they run with a division of labour operating to the customer Takt time?

Are we truly flowing the product or service or do we have some kind of “fake flow” where there are people still operating in a manner more associated to “craft”?

I support the idea that all improvement is good improvement, however if you’re wondering why your programme isn’t delivering the results that you expected then a good starting point is not to look for the next “big idea” but to re-focus on the lean basics that really make a difference. Learn to do them well and then you can look at how to improve or tweak them.