Lean is a journey not a weekend getaway...

How Lean is a continuous journey that builds a culture of Process Improvement leading enterprises to Operational Excellence

Lean is a journey not a weekend getaway...

by Rebecca Kennedy, 6 October 2017

So we now know Lean is an Operational Strategy – not a principle, method, system or tool.

Although it is proven to deliver immediate business benefits, it is not a one off initiative that is implemented and a box that can be ticked to say “we’re done”.

Lean is a journey that never ends, building a culture of Business Improvement that will lead to Enterprise Excellence.

It is worth noting at this point that Lean has been proven to yield improvements not only in productivity but also in speed, quality, customer loyalty, employee engagement and, most importantly, growth.

Although a Lean Operations Strategy can be broken down into smaller projects with milestones and outcomes, it is critical to keep a dynamic view of the overall strategy. This means that the Lean Operational Strategy goals must not be static; they must evolve as the business continuously improves and advances on its Lean journey.

20171006 Figure 1 Static and Dynamic Goal
Figure 1:
 This is Lean – Resolving the Efficiency Paradox (Niklas Modig & Par Ahlstrom, Rheologica Publishing, 2015)

So what does the Lean journey path look like? Well firstly is does not just focus on “how the work gets done”. It centres on what customers value and requires evolving in line with that – a commitment that often means new processes, capabilities and culture.

To better understand this, we’ll now introduce you to 6 of the key concepts that the Lean journey path cycles around:

  1. Put the customer at the heart of the business - Define value from the customer’s perspective end to end. This needs to be understood for all products and services offered by the business and through every touch point with the customer. Everything the business does should be geared towards people working together to more effectively deliver exactly what the customer values.
  2. Observe Processes - Map all the steps that fulfil a customer need from initial request through to completion. Does each step of the process add value for the customer? Does the process maximise flow i.e. is there a continuous flow of products, services and information through the process? Does the process use pull i.e. does the customer initiate the process? Nothing should be done by the upstream process until the downstream parties signal the need. Therefore actual demand pulls the product / service through the process.
  3. Make processes more efficient - Review the processes and how the value flows to the customer. Identify the non value add steps and wastes including time, resources and energy. Improve the processes so that the non value add steps and wastes are removed, therefore improving the customer experience. Standardise processes where possible, Improve Flow and use Pull.   
  4. Strengthen Performance Systems - Make performance and targets at all levels of the business more transparent to ensure effective deployment of resources and to encourage root-cause problem solving.
  5. Empower the people - Lean empowers the front line by shifting responsibility and accountability towards them and better leveraging their skills and knowledge. However this shift will demand new styles of leadership. The new roles and responsibilities must be clear, and it requires the development of skills and capabilities at all levels of the business. 
  6. Pursue perfection - Keep improving until everything the business does adds value for the customer.

There are multiple systems and tools available to focus and drive improvements in these key concept areas. I’ll introduce them in the next blog.

To recap, a Lean Operational Strategy is a journey not a weekend getaway. 

A business on their Lean journey will constantly strive for new knowledge, new understandings, and learning new things about its customers’ needs and how to meet those needs as efficiently as possible, creating a culture of Business Improvement. Further driving this is the Operational Strategy goals that grow upwards and onwards to Enterprise Excellence.

If you would like to learn more about CTPM – The Centre for Australasian TPM & Lean, and our approach to Business Improvement in Services, contact CTPM at ctpm@ctpm.org.au.