søndag den 17. november 2013

Lean reinvented?

By Thomas Klem Andersen, Published November 17th 2013

Friday nov. 5th Implement Consulting Group (ICG) hosted a seminar titled ’Lean reinvented’ after having been on a ‘Lean architecture tour’ to Japan. The intention was to ignite a discussion of the current state of Lean in Scandinavian organisations and how to foster Lean driven transformation.

Just another seminar on Lean and related management trends?
Having spend the morning discussing Lean Startup terminology and practices at Scion DTU I was hoping to get a better grip of the roots of Lean…

          Scion DTU's Lean Startup Study Group discussing The Startup Owner's Manual by Steve Blank

 …but I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would this be just another seminar on Lean and related management trends? The seminar however proved to be a highly interesting critical inquiry into the Lean concept clarifying what distinguishes it from other popular management concepts and what the true characteristics of Lean are as they have been developed at Toyota. As such the seminar seemed to have rediscovered Lean rather than reinventing it.

The enriching content was to a large extend due to the fact that ICG had invited Swedish Lean thinker and researcher NiklasModig. Fluent in Japanese, Niklas has gained the opportuni­ty to spend thousands of hours inside Toyota‘s service organisation in an attempt to understand how its philosophy can be applied in non-manufacturing contexts. Niklas has assumed a leading position as an inspirational speaker within the field of Lean management and is the author of the best-selling book “This isLean – resolving the efficiency paradox” offering condensed knowledge about Lean thinking.

 Looking for non-trivial intentions of working with Lean
Lean is a concept that has come to mean everything and nothing at the same time... Hence to some extend it has come to resemble just another tool among the other countless off-the-shelf management tools waiting to be implemented and discarded as management trends dictate.

Exactly for this reason, Niklas argued, if you beleive that there is some substance and quality to be found in the Lean concept you have to ask yourself  what the non-trivial intention of working with Lean is. Ressource efficiency would be a trivial answer as the alternative –ressource in-efficiency is not a valid alternative in an organisation that value its own existence. Hence looking for the non-trivial intention of working with Lean:

-       you are looking for the real intention that you have to align your organization around
-       you are looking for what exactly it is you want to improve and
-       you are looking for the reason why you couldn’t just as well be implementing Business model reengineering, scrum, agile or any other improvement strategy for that matter.

The central intention of all improvement activities at Toyota
In so far as efficiency is the shining strategic star you are aiming for as an organization, inevitably you will have to ask yourself which kind of efficiency should be the aim of your endeavors. Only then will you avoid the triviality fallacy and only then can you apply the skillful an appropriate means to achieve that goal.  Niklas delineated two different ways to define efficiency:

1.     Resource efficiency –focusing on specialists, functions and the utilization of resources.
2.     Flow efficiency –focusing on fulfilling needs and building a system to accommodate them.

So where should we dedicate our attention? Clearly both resources and flow are important, so it is not an either or. The real question is how to combine the two and in which order. According to Niklas Toyota’s operations strategy is characterized by prioritizing flow first and securing resource efficiency later. So Lean is first and foremost about developing flow efficiency.

Four non-trivialities of Lean:
Developing a Flow efficiency mindset might be the most general and necessary principle for an organization to think Lean but being flow minded is not sufficient. Niklas highlighted four non-trivial Lean pinciples at the seminar:

1.     Flow efficiency: Focusing on turnaround time and value adding time in relation to the customer.
2.     Just-in-time: Creating the best possible flow in order to deliver what the customer want at the right time and in the right amount.
3.     Jidoka: Creating visibility, transparency, mapping process and value creation for everyone all the time on all levels of the organization. This enables continuous learning, improvement of processes and identification of flow disturbances.
4.     Learning: In essence a result and inherent intention of ‘Jidoka’.

According to Niklas these are the most general and characteristic principles of Lean. As he put it they are the general ‘fruit-level’ categories of Lean that should be relevant in every Lean inspired context and every specific ‘apple-level’ Lean technique should be rooted in those.

It starts with the people and the glasses
In order to cultivate flow efficiency, as Niklas emphasized, you have to cultivate a certain flow-oriented mindset throughout the entire organization.
Implementing Lean methodologies won’t work in a context where the management and the culture is preoccupied with resource efficiency mindsets and practices. That would be trying to implement green apples in a non-fruit oriented organization. Non-fruit incentive structures are incongruent with apple practices and methodologies.

Lean on yourself
Lean is not a bundle of ready-made techniques to be adopted and implemented at will. Lean, according to Niklas, is a matter of living by the above-mentioned principles. In conclusion he encouraged everyone enthusiastic about Lean to be inspired by the standard of ‘how to develop a standard’ and not just blindly adopt and implement the techniques derived from these principles in the context of Toyota.

Becoming Lean should be a question of developing ones own matrixes, process boards and other techniques and processes inspired by the spirit of the fundamental Lean principles above.

Be creative, be the learner and ‘Lean on yourself’ as you explore new practices as Niklas would say.

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