How do we progress beyond just using the Lean Tools?

 

Jim Womack and John Shook are constantly reminding us of the importance of the balance between “Process”  (Technical) and “People” (Social)  to achieve our organisation’s “Purpose” as we implement Lean in our companies. John Shook has told us that in the eighties we generally had too much weight on the social side of the scale, and in the nineties and beyond the balance has swung to the opposite side with the emphasis now on the technical (or tools) side of the balance.

 

Also we hear all the time that Lean is more than “just” a set of tools. This is true, but if we are serious about implementing Lean in our organisations, how do we progress beyond the tools? Every organisation implementing Lean will need to go through the “tools” phase at some point in the process, but what should a Lean organisation look like when we have moved beyond the tools phase?

 

The important thing to remember during the early phase of a Lean implementation is to communicate the “real” reason for using Lean and why the tools are important. When all is said and done, the primary reason for every one of the Lean tools is to create robust systems for the exposure of waste and errors in realtime, and to link those systems to a widespread use of Root Cause Analysis and PDCA by shopfloor teams and management. In this way Lean will eventually transition from just tools to a deeper cultural way of thinking with an emphasis on both the Social (people) and Technical (process) aspects of business improvement.

 

So what do Womack and Shook mean by achieving a balance between “Process” and “People”? To give us a better understanding of how we can achieve balance, let’s explore these 2 important aspects for creating a Lean culture, by expanding on some thoughts from John Shook.

 

Process focus

  • For every change we implement, make sure we consider how our whole process delivers value to our customers from product design to disposal / recycling. This will require a widespread use of Value Stream Mapping.

  • Have a total focus on getting everyone involved with creating, using and improving well defined processes and systems that implicitly expose problems. These processes will be based on the pervasive use of visual systems and lead indicators.

  • Make a habit of understanding and using PDCA at every level in the business in real time. This means having an unfaltering focus on finding and destroying root causes at every opportunity.

  • Ensure decision making focuses on simultaneously improving customer service levels, reducing costs, improving quality and shortening leadtimes while increasing our capability to deliver variety for our customers.

  • Use the reduction of Inventory and Work in Process (WIP) to expose and fix weaknesses in our processes. Like hard training for an athlete we will build strength by constantly testing the limits of our processes as we work on ways to get value to flow faster to our customers.

  • Use the standardisation of processes as a basis for both “Systems” Kaizen and “Point” Kaizen. Improvement will be most effective when we can engage people to improve an already standardised process. How can we be sure we have improved the process using PDCA unless we are able to compare the “new” standard with the “old” standard for that process?

  • Ensure we have a widespread use of metrics that are deployed in a way that encourages people to speak up about problems.

 

People focus

  • Lean is centred on engaging and supporting people in the process to focus on improving their processes.

  • If we are serious about creating an environment where people can solve their own problems and improve their own processes we will also need to be serious about developing people capability at all levels of our business.

  • We must be prepared to lead by example with Leader Standard Work built into our daily schedules and routines.

  • We cannot expect our people to be engaged in our improvement ethos unless we are all having regular (at least daily) visits to the “Gemba” to promote discussion around the important things happening in the process.

  • Sustainable continuous improvement relies on embracing a culture of enquiry at all levels of the organisation and encouraging people to continually challenge the status quo. We can work towards a “Learning Organisation” if people in the business are actively encouraged to safely experiment with ways to improve processes.

  • In the Lean culture, respect for people is fundamental and often misunderstood. A good summary of what is needed here is - “Follow me and let’s work it out together”.  We should be using all the Lean tools as an opportunity to engage team members in the implementation of their solutions for problems they are experiencing.

  • Every employee will be involved in improving process using a standard and structured problem solving process that seeks out solutions to root causes.

  • Taking the time to constantly complete the PDCA cycle in everything we do. We can often forget to finish the cycle with the “Check” and the “Act”.  These final two steps in PDCA are critical as they enable us to standardise the change and create a platform for the next improvement.

  • Using relevant visual performance measures for every team combined with some level of problem resolution process to provide clarity around giving people the responsibility for the health of their processes. These measures will provide an important opportunity to interact with and support team members to make the “right” improvements.

  • We will create a more sustainable business model if our role as managers and team leaders is seen as more the role of “Steward” for the organisation with the operator as the “customer”. In this way our job is more about being a coach, offering support and facilitation for change.

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