Skip to main content

NoticeboardI recently came across this sign on the Executive MBA notice board in the corridor at UCT’s Graduate School of Business School, proclaiming “YOU DON’T BUILD A BUSINESS. YOU BUILD PEOPLE AND THEN PEOPLE BUILD THE BUSINESS”. The message seemed out of place, just sitting there, amongst the notices of where the designated smoking area is and who to phone in a medical emergency.

The first question that came to my mind was: Was this notice posted by the scarlet pimpernel of lean thinkers, spreading the word with clandestine messages? Or, has this message gone mainstream, to the extent that it has become wallpaper?

I certainly agreed with the message, because lean management has evolved to the point where it is no longer only about the tools and techniques. Moreover, lean is not ‘just’ about problem-solving and process improvement, or lean leadership. At the heart of lean management is the development of people in all of the above-mentioned aspects, and more…

Then another intriguing question came across my mind: Is it true?

You see, in my experience it isn’t as simple as ‘building the people’. I’ve seen people flourish as they tackle their first significant A3 project and, having systematically followed the data trail and with a little help from their coach, they have achieved their target condition. Then they persevered through the inevitable downturn in the measurement, and learnt about the importance of standard work and keeping the team on track to sustain the improved performance over time. Then came the celebration and the all-important recognition of the individual for what they achieved. Then this individual leaves (often for a promotion), and soon the improvement is history, as performance reverts to previous levels.

It seems to me that we have to do more than ‘build the people’. We have to build the system that builds the people that builds the business. Then we have to institutionalise the system which builds the people, so that it persists beyond the individuals that make up the organisation. This applies even more to leadership. I have all too often seen examples of once exemplary lean organisations which have reverted back to traditional management when the leadership changes.

So is this not the more pressing question: ‘Is the next frontier for lean management the resilience challenge?‘, which goes beyond the current sustainability challenge?

Kind regards,

Lean Institute Africa CEO


Lean Healthcare Summit
Learn about building the management system that builds the people that builds the business when Dr John Toussaint delivers the keynote address at the upcoming Lean Healthcare Summit on 26 October 2015 in Johannesburg.

Toussaint was the CEO of the Thedacare Health System during the time when the world-renowned Thedacare Performance Management System was built. He has moved on to become the CEO of the Thedacare Centre for Healthcare Value – and the Thedacare system continues to go from strength to strength.

You could also be first in line to get your copy of Toussaint’s new book Management on the Mend: The Healthcare Executive Guide to System Transformation, hot off the press, at the Lean Healthcare Summit.

Please note: The Thedacare model is not just for healthcare. In his foreword to the book detailing Thedacare’s management system, Beyond Heroes by Kim Barnas, Jim Womack has said that the model applies to industry and commerce as well.


Lean Institute Africa workshops
For information on Lean Institute Africa’s workshops, please visit our website.


Lean Product Process Development
Lean Product Process Development Exchange (LPPDE)
is holding their annual event, which is an open EXCHANGE of ideas, best practices, challenges, and solutions on September 15-16 2015 in Austin, Texas.

In 2014 the Lean Enterprise Institute began the Lean Product and Process Development (LPPD) initiative to help the lean community on how to better apply lean principles to the practice of product development. For more information on the above event, and further information about LPPD, visit our website.