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Wishing you a Happy New Year and a prosperous 2020! I thought it might be a nice start to the year by sharing some key insights I wish I had known when I started on my Lean journey. There are 14 on my list (for now – I’m sure there’s a lot more learning and insights to gain in my future), and here they are. Perhaps some of these may resonate with you.

Warm regards,

Samantha Allen
CEO, Lean Institute Africa

1. Get Leadership Involved from the Start

There are three components that need to be in place to gain support successfully from the Leadership Team:

    1. Educate leadership in this new way of thinking
    2. Provide the space to practice these new skills, with coaching support
    3. Set clear measurable expectations around the behaviours and roles that need to be adopted going forward

Without these in place there will be no motivation for your Leadership team to practice Lean Management.

2. Link Lean to the Core of your Organisation

  • Lean should not be seen as a separate initiative, but rather a management system to support you in achieving your objectives.
  • Develop a good, clear organisational strategy. Ask yourself:
    • What do we want to achieve in the next 12 months?
      3 years?
      And/or 5 years?
    • What does your customer require from you?
    • How can we improve?

Link your Lean strategy to these objectivesthis will create a deeper understanding of how Lean will support the efforts of the organisation in achieving these goals.

3. Quantify Benefits Early On

Choose improvements that talk directly to the Strategic Objectives of the organisation and that will make the greatest impact to the bottom line.

Ensure you quantify these benefits, from the start, in monetary terms. Remember that every activity in an organisation can be converted into a rand amount.

Talking money is the fastest way to get the attention of management!

4. Change needs to happen at all Levels of the Organisation

When we embark on a lean transformation it is natural to want to start where the work happens – at the operational level. Whilst this may bring about the ‘quick wins’ you are seeking, we have to keep in mind that change needs to be affected at all levels of the organisation for this way of working to be sustainable.

Remember the operational level never operates in isolation, and needs support from the strategic and systemic levels in order to achieve their objectives.

5. Culture is more important than you think

It is important to understand the culture of an organisation before embarking on a lean transformation. This will give you important insight as to how best to communicate, implement, embed and sustain this thinking.

6. Start With Measurement & Visual Performance Management

Visually displaying team measurement will naturally improve performance with little or no process improvement in place.

Measurement is the gateway to team problem-solving: if you aren’t measuring, you don’t know you have a problem.

If there is no problem, there is no continuous improvement! 

7. Ownership, Ownership, Ownership

This is the most important word in the implementation of a Lean Management System: A leader’s most difficult task will be to understand how to create ownership and accountability in their teams.

If the leader owns the process, the metrics, the reporting and the problem-solving, what motivation will the team have to get involved?

The trick is to allow the team to take full ownership and accountability of their work, while the leader takes the role of coach to support their activities.

People want to be given responsibility to help solve the problem and the authority to act on it!

8. People behave at the level you expect from them   

Raise your expectations of people and they will raise their performance!

9. Reflection is vital to Continuous Improvement  

Making time for reflection is central to continuous improvement, without this there can be no learning.

Reflecting on what you have learned and where you are headed allows you to evaluate your experience, gain understanding from your mistakes, and use that knowledge to improve. This should form part of every team’s standard work on a regular basis.

10. Change is difficult for most people

This is why it is vital that we engage our teams right from the start, create transparency around the change and ensure the environment is conducive to this new way of working. There are lots of ways you can tackle this, but here are some of the basics you need to have in place, in order to shift mindset and behaviours:

    1. Role model the new behaviour: teams need to see their superiors, peers and subordinates behaving in this ‘new way’.
    2. Effectively communicate the vision: teams need to know what is expected of them and why they are doing what they are doing differently
    3. Develop Capability & Skills: teams need to feel they have the skills and competencies to behave in this new way. If you want teams to problem-solve, teach them how to problem-solve!
    4. Reinforce with formal mechanisms: ensure structures, processes and systems have been set up to reinforce this change in behavior.

A Lean transformation requires new behaviours, culture & mindset. People require a clear vision and structure. Make sure you include both aspects in your transformation, otherwise it won’t be a transformation.

11. Don’t call it Lean

The word Lean may have negative connotations for some people. When naming your improvement system, choose a name that creates meaning for your Organisation, links to the Organisational culture and motivates employees to want to get involved!

12. Define behaviours, not only KPI’s, and live them

Lean is largely dependent around developing a set of behaviours that supports an environment of problem-solving and continuous improvement, not to mention engaged, happy staff!

Instead of only focusing on defining the more tangible things like KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators), targets and improvement benefits, we also need to take into consideration the ‘softer’ requirements of a Lean transformation. Define and develop these behaviours in all your employees, it will make for an easier transition and a better chance of sustaining this new way of working!

13. Don’t be afraid to change the plan

The chances of your first attempt at a Lean roll out plan being successful, are very slim…

In my experience Organisations (Leadership) are very apprehensive of changing a plan once they commit to it.

If we consider the most basic lean principle of continuous improvement, using the PDCA cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act) – changing the plan if necessary is exactly what we should be doing!

14. People are not your problem!

The problem is, that the work systems, processes, and behaviours, embedded within your organisation don’t allow people to be at their best.

As Deming would say ‘Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets’.