Reflections on the Progress of Lean

Taking stock after two very busy months in the field, meeting people and talking at events and walking the Gemba through several organisations prompted five common reflections.

Gemba Walks

First - Everyone is now doing lean with their own improvement teams. But my questions is can their management teams focus their lean activities on closing the vital few performance gaps that would make the biggest difference to the organisation’s future?

Second - Many organisations struggle to focus on the voice of the customer rather than the utilisation of their existing assets. Why not start by understanding the problem key customers are trying to solve and jointly analysing the processes they and you have to go through to do so?

Third - Many organisations find it hard to look end-to-end at the horizontal flows of value creating work and to diagnose the systemic causes of waste within them. Why not start by mapping the core high-level value streams, observing the biggest delays and the sources and consequences of variability (which is usually generated by the way the system is run rather than by customers)?

Fourth - Few organisations have any skills or experience of working cross- functionally. Why not give someone the end-to-end responsibility for gaining agreement on what needs to be done to stabilise and then redesign the core value streams in a visual management context that drives collaborative behaviours?

Fifth - Central improvement teams struggle to sustain pilot projects and to attract top management attention. Maybe this means changing their role from “running lean” to mentoring and coaching line managers to solve their business problems?

Solving these problems means acting our way into new ways of thinking and takes time. It is also about recognising that the work of managers needs to change as much as the value creating work on the Gemba. Lean may have won the war but there is still a lot more to do to become the new common sense.


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