Don’t think “Lean” think “Value”

Often we hear our clients ask “can you ‘lean’ out that area?”, or “we need to sort out production – can you do a 5S project?” We could, and there might be marginal benefit from delivering those tasks in isolation, but any such benefit will likely be short-lived as a flavour of the (last) month.

What is required is a more strategic, company-wide adoption of a set of lean principles and powerful methodologies that will, if bought into at senior level and correctly embedded and supported, completely overhaul the whole ‘modus operandi’ of the business to focus on creating value to the end customer.

Recently, I sent a very sceptical Operations Director from a large engineering services company to visit one of our clients. Their lean journey has been little short of phenomenal with value-add per person up 15% and 35% business growth. They have transformed themselves by working closely with their customer and their supply chain to significantly reduce waste and duplication in their value streams. They are a gold supply award winner from their major customer and all of this has been achieved within two years through inspirational leadership who understood the whole concept, and applied lean as a holistic programme of change.

I called the Operations Director and asked him how his visit went and he said, “I was dumbstruck, literally. It was incredible, so much so, I haven’t slept properly for two nights thinking about the power of lean focussed on creating value across the entire value chain!”

Sometimes a picture paints a thousand words, and there is nothing like seeing it with your own eyes and meeting with those who have been successful. Powerful stuff indeed, and he is now sending his team for the same visit, to gain their commitment and understanding instead of dabbling with lean in a few random areas.

Just as with Sigma’s other services, local projects carried out in isolation, or best practice applied only to one part of the business, will bring marginal or short-lived benefits. For real sustainable business change, company-wide, or cross-functional application of lean as both a portfolio of complementary best practice processes, and as a cultural change programme, is the effective differentiator.

Martin is an ADS Accredited Lean and EFQM Business Excellence Lead Practitioner, and an Advisory Member of the International Operational Excellence Society