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How to develop lean thinkers? How to develop lean practitioners? How to develop the next generation so that it reflects the full diversity of our world? How to build humble confidence in that generation’s practice of lean? And is this the job of the HR Department, or what?

Do these questions or similar ones haunt you at times? Or thrill and challenge you? ‘All of the above’ for me, by turn.

I have been following John Shook and others in the Lean Global Network as they work on a ‘Lean Transformation Framework’ (I refer to it as the ‘LTF’) over the past few years. You can see John presenting the LTF here in under 8 minutes:

Here are the five dimensions of the LTF, stated as the questions an organisation’s leadership needs to ask:

• What problem are we trying to solve? What purpose are we trying to achieve?
• What is the work to be done? How will we go about improving it?
• What capabilities are required (and how will we grow them) to do the work, to solve the problem, to achieve our purpose?
• What management system can we define? And what behaviours are required to build the capabilities, to do the work, to solve the problems that we are here to solve?
• What is our basic thinking, or mind-set, and underlying assumptions that inform everything we do as we attempt to achieve our basic purpose?

For me dimensions 2 (what is the work?), 3 (what capabilities are required and how to grow them?) and 4 (what management system and leader behaviours?) came together in his statement: ‘Develop the people through doing the work.’

You might understand my delight, therefore, when a few days ago I got a message from a young person (let’s say ‘X’) about recent achievements. X was part of a public hospital initiative we (LIA) began 20 months ago. We worked with a core of 20 people drawn from four hospitals. Four people, including X, were added for development as lean initiative support staff within the province. Within five months X had participated in four Rapid Process Improvement Workshops (RPIWs) – one at each hospital. He was drawn into observing, mapping, data collection, the A3 problem solving process, and countermeasure implementation in each. Subsequent to the RPIWs X witnessed the Master Facilitators, from LIA, doing several months of follow-up coaching at each hospital. The coaching was aimed at developing a daily management system around the ideas present in Mike Rother’s Toyota Kata approach.

Within eight months of the start of that work, the average waiting time of patients in the twelve ‘model line areas’ had fallen by fifty percent. X’s message to me the other day was about similar results experienced in solo work done by X with the model line staff of another public hospital.

I am simply delighted that X has developed significant capability to improve the work by doing the work.

Sadly, X is being transferred to other work, work which does not appear to be related to process improvement. Just as with our work with the original four hospitals, the allocated time has run out for X before the hospital’s management system has stabilised.

What are my reflections? Firstly, it is apparent we can develop lean thinkers through doing the work of lean improvement. In fact, I don’t think there is any other way to do it! Secondly the development should take place under the guidance of experienced lean facilitators.

But why is X being transferred now? Perhaps there are good reasons that neither X nor I know about. But I find myself asking about the role of the HR department: where is the career path for X, what is the vision for the lean management system in the development of the organisation? Whilst line managers should be taking on the daily lean disciplines required of the lean management system, surely the HR department should ensure stable, long-term development.

Does the HR department needs to reflect on the Lean Transformation Framework? And particularly ponder dimension 1 (what is our purpose? what problem are we trying to solve?) and dimension 5 (what is our basic thinking, or mind-set, and underlying assumptions that inform everything we do as we attempt to achieve our basic purpose)?

What do you think?

Kind regards,

Prof. Norman Faull
Chairman, The Lean Institute Africa

P.S. If you are part of an HR department, or would like your companies human resources people to get started with lean, an ideal place to start is our Lean HR Workshop. The workshop runs on the 26 and 27 July in Johannesburg, and is presented by experienced lean HR professionals, including Thapelo Molapo, Toyota South Africa’s former Vice President of HR and Training. For more information and to register, visit:

P.P.S. Our second round of workshops for the year begin in August, including the Introduction to Lean, taking place in Johannesburg on the 22 and 23 August and in Cape Town on the 24 and 25 August. Later in the year, please join our Lean Management: The A3 Way and Lean Transformation (including Kata) workshops. Find out more about our workshops and register for them here: