As 2015 came to a close, it gave us the opportunity to reflect on an exciting year, working mostly in the health care and justice systems. The work that LIA is doing in the public sector has its challenges, but it was also very gratifying to work with people so dedicated to improving service delivery.

This reflection caused us to review our mission statement and we decided it was time for change. We’ve decided that we need to become more customer focused. Not exactly a surprising direction to go in, but given our academic roots, maybe we were inclined more to the pursuit of understanding how lean management works rather than what our clients and partners in improvement needed on their respective journeys to lean transformation.

We decided on a new mission statement:

“Building the community of lean practitioners through action research and knowledge sharing, to help organisations serve their customers better.”

compassThis is very much a first draft that we hope to improve with the help of the people that are the reason for LIA’S existence – its customers. We invite you to comment, or critique, this new mission statement. But let me first explain what we have in mind so that you can give informed feedback.

At first we started the statement with the word “serving”, but decided to change it to “building” because we felt that “serving” could be interpreted as aimed only at the current needs of existing lean practitioners. “Building” allows for growth, both of the changing needs of lean practitioners, but also to encourage new people to join the community and to support the development of those already engaged.

“Lean practitioners” indicates that we place greater value on experiential learning than received wisdom. Our laboratories are those organisations that are grappling with improving work in real world contexts, rather than knowledge generation as an academic exercise. Yes, we know these are messy, wicked problems to solve, but you definitely learn more and faster in the deep end.

I understand “community” as a networked system of people and organisations that both shape, and are shaped, by their interactions with each other. What holds us together is our purpose, which we see as making sure the beneficiaries of the organisations work, be they customers, clients, or patients, receive the best value possible. LIA might be one node in that network, but we certainly are not the only node and we have much to learn from our peers in this quest.

“Action research” alludes to the repeated cycles of real-world learning in which we are participants. This has important implications for our role in this endeavour because in the same moment that we rely on our experience of what works, we need to remain open to learning about new and better ways of doing improvement work, particularly in our African context. It seems to me that this will require rigour in our methods of work and reflection – learning to make visible our failure to achieve our purpose, as well as becoming better at turning failure into opportunity.

“Knowledge sharing” is a large part of what LIA does. Through our workshops, summits, direct work with our clients and communications like this one. We are not, however, the fount of all wisdom. We would like to put more emphasis on facilitating knowledge sharing between the members of the community of lean practitioners (maybe some of you would like to step up and share your hard won experience with others through articles, at our summits and in workshops) and with members from the international community of lean practitioners such as John Shook from the Lean Enterprise Institute, Dr John Toussaint from Thedacare and Furuhashi-San, our sensei from Chu-San-Ren in Japan.

The goal of any lean work is to create more value, and ultimately to do so for the end user of the product or service. For example, in our work in public hospitals in South Africa, the end user is the patient. ”Help organisations serve their customers better” aims to clearly state and capture this common goal that we and other lean practitioners strive towards.

LIA needs you to walk this journey with us. Please let us know what you think of the first draft of our new mission statement, ideally in a comment on our website which others can read and think about, or just in an email. Whether it is a tweak or a fundamental disagreement, we would like to hear from you so that you can keep us on track.

Keep well,


P.S. Preparations for our Lean Summit Africa 2016 are in full swing. If you would like to join us at the summit, please click here to register your interest. If you are interested in taking me up on my offer to share stories, the summit is a great platform to do that. You can read our call for papers and submit an application to speak on our website here.