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Your Personal Lean Journey

Your organization may not be started on its lean journey but that doesn't mean you can't be. Here are six key steps you can take.

When signing copies of my book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to Lean, I would often write "lean is both an organizational journey and a personal one; lean begins with you!" We focus so much on the organizational journey that we forget our personal journey. I receive many emails from individuals looking to start lean efforts but they face resistance. They want the whole organization to move forward, but what about their own work?

Lean journeys are about serving customers, designing and improving our work, and solving problems. Do those challenges apply to your own personal work? Of course they do, no matter what your role or profession. So before you criticize your organization for not moving ahead, ensure you are on a path forward and not just a spectator.

Imagine (if you have to) that you want to start a lean journey with zero support. What can you do?

1. Skip the lingo. I'm generally anti-lingo, but if you don't have support, you want to just quietly use lean, not advertise it. No one needs to know what tools or methods you are using, or their origins, or whether the methods are "lean" or not. Are you making things better? That's all that will matter in these circumstances.

2. Focus on immediate benefits. You don't need a roadmap. You aren't trying to build momentum. This isn't even about change management, except perhaps for yourself. Focus on your waste, your problems, your opportunities to improve. Lean is a means to an end, and your end is your optimal performance within your given scope.

3. Standardize your work. Standardizing your work at the individual level is often different than a shared level. Your biggest opportunities are to improve consistency, allowing yourself to apply your skills and knowledge under varied conditions without fail. This might take the form of checklists, or scripts, or routines. It might be as simple as a 3x5 card pinned to your office doorjamb, or something more elaborate.

4. Eliminate waste. Focus on your daily routine, because it's the greatest opportunity to eliminate recurring waste. You might focus on how you manage email, how you prepare for meetings or how you organize your files. If you can go to work tomorrow and find 5 seconds of waste to eliminate, that might not seem like much. If you do that again every single workday for a year, you will eventually save 18 minutes out of your daily routine. That still might not seem like much, but over the next year you will have created 1.5 weeks of free capacity. That's game-changing performance.

5. Find root cause. A lot of problem-solving methods such as A3 and DMAIC are meant to help more than one individual collaborate. It organizes the workflow of problem-solving to help people go through problem-solving. While it is certainly useful for individuals, I find individuals are slow to adopt such methods. Starting smaller can be quite useful. Begin using methods to help you get to root cause. Focus your early efforts on the 5 Whys method and fishbone (also called Ishikawa) analysis. Become a student of cause and effect, and you are well on your way on your lean journey.

6. Take time for reflection. Reflecting on your own work, your performance, and what works and doesn't work, is an underappreciated and under-invested-in activity in lean journeys. If you don't pick your head up from the daily chaos and routine, you don't know if your actions are getting you closer to your destination or not. Whether you use a formal method such as After Action Review or simply review your efforts for 20 minutes at the end of the week depends on what works best for you.

When you're in this situation, you're not looking for credit on your efforts to use lean methods. You are only looking for credit for improving your performance, and lean is a means to that end.

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