Lean seems to be quite a fashionable term these days. You can have lean production, lean management, lean strategy etc. The original idea of Lean thinking dates back to Toyota in the 90s’, when it successfully applied it to improve efficiency in production. In short, Lean is a management philosophy, which is aims at increasing efficiency in production (or any kind of processes), through minimizing waste and focusing on the essential, essential being something, which brings added value to the customer. Waste includes, for example, misguided timings, errors and excess stock. Lean aims at getting the right amount of things to the right place at the right time and according to agreed specifications. This means shorter lead times, less costs, improved quality and increased customer satisfaction.
Lean uses a lot of terms originating from Japanese language thus making it a bit hard to digest. But taking a closer look reveals that many of the principles are in fact such, which companies should already now apply. To simplify, here are some examples:
- Cleanliness and order. Tools and utilities have their place and everyone is responsible for keeping the workplace tidy.
- Agreed working methods. These need to be described and communicated. And they also need to be continuously improved.
- Eliminating waste. This is related to stocks, extra waiting in and between working phases and to inefficient usage of resources and production spaces.
- Preventive actions and continuous improvement extending to all functions and including everything from small improvements to work phases to larger, company-wide development projects.
All thing listed below fit nicely also to quality management system and thus it is not feasible to build some kind of separate system around lean but instead execute it in synergy with other development projects. And as always, have a look at the characteristics of your company and adjust the development process accordingly. Small businesses have unique processes, which are the foundation of their competitiveness. In SMEs it is not possible to drive change projects by blindly following the systematic frameworks designed for large organizations. It makes little since to suddenly force decades of experience into some tight model. Therefore, we have playfully used the term “Ekocoil way” for our adaption of lean thinking.
But lean is not a rainmaker and applying it will not automatically lead the company to success. As any other change project, lean requires persistent and resilient work, combined with a proper dose of humility. The company must not outsource the planning completely, but instead define clear goals it wants to achieve and then make sure everyone in the organization will then commits to these goals. Without proper vision, the project will easily start to drift and go down in history as “yet another unsuccessful project”.
Three things cannot be emphasised enough: Motivation, commitment and communication. These are probably familiar themes, which are the backbone of every organizational change project. The support of top management is or course essential, but the commitment of middle management is just as important. To ensure that new routines and ways of working stick, the project needs daily supervision and monitoring in the beginning. Letting go of old routines may prove to be surprisingly difficult and adopting new regimes can see almost impossible. We humans like to operate mainly in our comfort zone and all distractions, such as new ways of working, are seen as a threat to this. We often nod our heads as a sign of agreement in common meetings, but yet privately act against these agreements. This is why, new routines must be rooted deep in to organizational culture.