About 20 years ago, I began a journey looking at business processes and how they can be improved. I discovered Total Quality Management (TQM), Quality Improvement, Kaizen, Problem Solving, staff involvement and empowerment. I visited the Toyota plant in Thames (NZ) a couple of times (it’s not there anymore) and learnt about “The Toyota Way”. I was hooked on the processes for staff involvement, problem solving and incremental improvement. I admired the methods for organisation of the workplace and could see the benefit of it for productivity.
When I began consulting nearly 10 years ago, I was surprised that this ethos of process improvement was not prevalent in more workplaces.
And then “Lean” became the new buzzword. Lean was a repackaged, sexier version of the old style TQM- the Toyota way. So what is it?
For me, Lean is about identifying areas for improvement by clearly identifying what you want to achieve, where you can reduce waste, increase efficiency or minimise loss, find possible solutions and plan implementation. It is also about people, involving people in improving their own work processes, providing the tools for people to do better and empowering them to make a difference.
How do you identify where to start? Ask yourself where you think you waste time, money, material or product? For example:
- What makes you, or your team, go aaargh?
- When does plant and equipment let you down?
- How often do you work around something to get the result you want?
Lean is a state of mind, a way of thinking. Once you start to think about the things you can improve it will become second nature and you have taken the first step.