Beyond the Lean Initiative

Beyond the Lean Initiative

Is lean something you add to what you are doing? If so, don't expect it to last.

In the last few columns we explored some issues with starting and building a lean journey. But once you have your lean journey underway, how do you sustain it? How do you build it into the bricks and mortar, and the DNA, of the organization? We no longer want lean to be its own thing; we want it integrated into the organization.

Lean shouldn't be an initiative, but in the early phases, which can last a substantial time period, it must be an initiative to gain traction. But to be sustainable, it has to become part of the organization. We've seen very successful lean journeys that have never reached this stage; they are stuck in initiative modes. Initiatives won't last forever. You must deliberately build lean into every mechanism.

1. Ditch the lean plan for THE plan. If you're going to integrate lean into your organization, you can't have a lean plan. You can only have a plan. Whether it is your strategic plan or your daily operating plan, lean thinking, methods and even tools have to be built in.

Need to better understand the market? Then find a way to leverage direct observation. Need to change your organizational footprint? Then determine how you can leverage kaizen workshops, rapid experimentation and lean design rules to achieve the optimal design. This isn't done as a second stage after you have a plan, as most organizations do. It is part of the discussion, part of the process, part of the plan.

2. Work on your toughest problems. If your plan doesn't already take you there, lean should be utilized to solve your toughest problems. Are you still just using it for some process efficiency gains? Or is lean how you solve your market problem? Are you deeply engaged with suppliers, partners and customers in exploring new and innovative means to deliver value?

Some 30 years ago, both Kodak and Fuji knew that digital would eventually replace print film. One organization kept going down the path it was already on. The other wrote that problem on the wall and started to work hard, with thousands of solutions, creating new applications from industrial chemicals to cosmetics. I will let you guess which firm is which.

3. Hire and promote lean behaviors, not lean talent. When starting a lean journey, you need lean talent. You need people with experience in lean journeys from other companies, people with lean skills, people who can teach lean to others. This is the lean talent you need to inject into the organization. But as lean becomes how the organization works, the lean talent you hired starts looking for things to do.

Hire for lean behaviors. Promote for lean behaviors. Everything else is teachable. One organization did interviews by holding a lean simulation. They observed behaviors during the simulation and used these observations to help determine who would be a good fit for the new lean culture.

4. Train for roles rather than lean. Lean training is a useful tool to get the organization through the early stages, and accomplish everything from the early need for buy-in to advanced skills as you progress. You run lean introduction courses, direct observation workshops and coaching seminars. But this still establishes lean as something you are trying to inject and aspire to.           

To truly integrate lean, you can't just train everyone generically for lean capability. You must train for the roles. What does a process engineer need to know, feel and be able to do? What about a product engineer? What about a vice president? Each role has a unique combination of lean skills, with role-specific nuances to how and where to apply those skills. Train for that reality.

Lean is not the goal. It is just a means to an end. Transition from lean being extra work to how we work, from a special thing to a natural occurrence, from an initiative to your DNA.

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