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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: A Little Lean Doesn’t Go a Long Way

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Friday, February 11, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question: Why is it so difficult to see the financial benefits from lean?

I wonder if in many cases the answer is as simple as this:  We haven’t yet progressed with lean to the point where you can see the results financially.

One can argue that lean means working on improving every process every day, even if only in small increments. Each process and product would always have a target condition, on the way to an overall vision, that the process owners are striving to achieve by working through the obstacles step-by-step with PDCA.

But instead, we’ve tended to give responsibility for lean to a parallel staff organization and to make periodic improvements in selected processes. The second law of thermodynamics suggests if you’re not improving here today, you’re slipping here today. Not much middle ground. So if we’re only episodically improving some processes, and maybe even slipping back somewhat in between times, that would make financial benefits difficult to see.

The case for capability development

If we acknowledge that improvement, adaptation and positive results tend to arise from accumulation of small steps across the organization, then it starts making great sense for everyone in an organization to practice an improvement kata and participate. It takes time to develop a critical mass of widespread capability that shows up in the organization’s metrics, but it doesn’t have to be an investment on faith. We should be making locally-measureable improvements along the way. The trick is that while people are practicing they are working on something real. In fact, that may be approximately the stage the lean community is coming to now. Many organizations are realizing they only have a foot in the water, and that they should be integrating improvement into daily work.

To get people across an organization to systematically work on improvement every day requires teaching the skills behind the solution. And for that to happen their leaders and managers will also need to practice and learn those skills. In any organization, the managers are the teachers.

For more detail see my last post: The Lean Movement is Changing.

Mike

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