Introduction to Lean Methodology
Updated: Oct 16, 2018
If you google “lean”, terms like: JIT, 5S, MIFA, OPF, TPM, TT or CT start to appear on your screen, or the alternatives: Jidoka, Poka Yoke, Heijuka, Kanban and so on … It feels a bit like learning Klingonian or at least Japanese.
More reader friendly articles support the idea that: Lean is a way of living, Lean is about the people, Lean is about the customer, Lean is about … Basically any topic that you could think of.
It’s no wonder that one might get confused about what Lean actually is. But, before we answer the question, maybe let’s see what Lean can do for us.
Across different industries Lean is used to: reduce operational cost, improve quality, increase productivity and therefore improve customer satisfaction and, hopefully, employee satisfaction as well.
Is Lean maybe a magic wand that once used all things magically transform?
You can see Lean as collection of tools used to analyses current state with the purpose of highlighting strong points and inefficiencies, and, another collection of tools used to design future state with the purpose of reducing or eliminating inefficiencies, preserving strong points and increasing overall performance.
The entire Lean methodology can be divided into four different pillars, or four different dimensions, each having tools for diagnostic and two of them also for design:
Voice of the customer (VoC). Refers to how customers perceive current performance in comparison with their own expectations.
Operating System (OS). Focuses on how the processes are designed, what are the resources needed in order to make them run and how the working layout is supporting everything;
Management Infrastructure (MI). Focuses on how people are managed in order to deliver best possible performance. This pillar is like a bridge between operating system and the last pillar of Lean.
Mindset and Behaviour (MB). Which refers to how employees behave and what is the mindset that is driving such behaviour.
These four dimensions are meant to give a logical grouping for the tools based on the intended purpose of usage. It is not a mandatory division but it will structure your thinking along the implementation path.
Voice of the Customer is centred around customer feedback regarding the performance of all other three pillars, while Mindset and Behaviour is the pillar that highlights the level of satisfaction and commitment of employees and it’s directly impacted by the way Operating System and Management Infrastructure pillars are performing.
So, just to recap, Lean is a methodology that has the purpose of improving a current “as is” situation along Voice of the Customer, Operating System, Management Infrastructure and Mindset and Behaviour pillars through the usage of diagnostic and design tools. It is not a magic wand, but it can deliver significant impact if implemented the right way.
A Lean transformation can also be seen as a journey that goes along five phases, or five stages, but remains focused on all the four pillars at all times.
1. Preparation. Is the stage in which aspirations are set, some data collected, project charter drafted, communication prepared, roles and responsibilities defined and the change team formed;
2. Diagnostic. During this phase awareness is created through diagnostic tools and a sense of urgency is created so that the need for change is understood and accepted by stakeholders. Every pillar has its own diagnostic tools designed to create transparency regarding potential problems and highlight the route causes. One important thing to understand is that issues can be found in any pillar. If customers or employees are not complaining about something it doesn’t mean that things can’t be improved. Also, only at the end of this phase the maximum potential for improvement can be measured and final targets can be set.
3. Design. During this phase the change team and stakeholders work together to create an improved future state during one or multiple workshops called Kaizen events. Although all issues found in Diagnostic are always to be addressed in OS and MI pillars, we can say for sure that all the four pillars will be ultimately impacted. We fix the processes, resource allocation, layout and management principles in order to have dedicated employees and satisfied customers.
To better explain this let’s take the following examples:
In diagnostic you can discover that customers might be unsatisfied with the long waiting times related to your product delivery. But in order to fix this you need to either improve the process (OS) or might be that the process is fine, but performance of employees needs improving (MI).
In another example you could have employees being unhappy with the continuous extra hours that they need to perform and therefore leaving the company. This can be caused by many different factors such as: poor allocation of resources (OS) or demotivating incentive system which can lead to poor productivity (MI).
Whatever improvement initiatives you generate will be implemented in OS or MI but the final impact will be on your customers and on your employees.
4. Implementation. During this phase the initiatives generated during Kaizen events are finally to be tested and implemented according to the Tactical Implementation Plan (TIP) which follows the prioritisation given by the 80/20 Pareto principle. What are the 20% initiatives that will generate 80% of the impact?
5. Continuous improvement. This phase stays at the core of a Lean transformation and even if it is the last phase from the chronological point of view, it is in fact the ultimate purpose of Lean. From preparation and throughout diagnostic, design and implementation the change team will focus on passing the Lean knowledge and mindset to the people within the organisation so that they will continue generating improvement ideas and they will prevent inefficiencies from appearing without any future guidance. So the goal is to equip people with the right skills and empower them to shape the way OS and MI pillars are looking like.
Even if the five stages described might seem very similar to a “Waterfall” project rather than an “Agile” project, this doesn’t mean you need to wait until implementation to actually implement low hanging fruits. You can start implementing quick wins right from the Diagnostic phase. This will be extremely beneficial to the Lean transformation, as it will ensure you will have buy-in from the team transformed early on in the project. Most of the improvement initiatives can be implement using an agile approach and the entire Lean transformation should be using most of the agile principles of managing a project.
So there you have it! Lean is a methodology that focuses on raising customer and employee satisfaction through improving the the way processes are designed, resources allocated and people managed. It has five different stages and the ultimate goal build a Continuous Improvement mindset among all employees.
Best of luck!