Tag Archives: process

Lean is a state of mind

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.



Getting Sorted

Being organised does not come easily to me, I am not a details person and rush from one exciting new thing to another. However, I know the power of being organised and know that I suffer when the “wheels fall off”. I am a busy, self- employed wife and mother and mostly work hard at being organised. Sometimes things just don’t work and I then need to stop and get back to basics by reviewing my systems and improving how I do things.

It might be a contradiction, but I think it is because I have to work hard to be organised, that I understand the power of having systemised processes to complete my tasks.

Some questions to ask yourself

1. How can we guarantee quality, create customer loyalty, increase productivity?

  • Specify product or service standards
  • Identify “moments of truth” for the customer (Ie why do they come to you and what would make then go elsewhere)
  • Identify what wastes time or causes hassles for staff and clients.

2. What do we need to put in place to meet the standards?

  • Extra step
  • Extra resources
  • Change process
  • Train staff
  • Product testing

3. How can we ensure we meet the standard?

  • Product testing
  • Quality Assurance step
  • Audit process
  • Customer feedback
  • Standards for inputs

Once a new process is put in place it is important that it is reviewed, so plan  a “trial” which is checked and then implemented as standard procedure. If you follow these steps and create the discipline of asking the questions regularly, you will improve staff morale, make life easier and increase your productivity.

What makes a strong organisation?

In recent years there has been much written, and spoken, about resilient organisations. What does being resilient mean? One definition is to withstand shock without permanent deformation or rupture. Another is to recover from, or adjust easily to , misfortune or change.  

What makes an organisation strong and therefore resilient to outside forces?

My answer is “the people”

There are a few steps you can take to build strong organisations- I have listed a few that I think can be easily implemented in any organisation.

  • Recruit well: Select people for attitude and build the skills they need to do the job well
  • Train well: From day one, have an orientation programme that helps your new recruit to understand the culture and become part of the organisation quickly. Have a range of training options to continually up skill your staff member (ie one-on-one “buddy” system, mentoring/coaching, formal study programmes etc)
  • Communicate well: tell people stuff! Involve your staff in what is going on, good and bad. Involve them in solutions, trust them with information. Have conversations about your organisation, the industry, the economy- what ever is going to affect you.
  • Empower: Delegate authority to the level it needs to be. Not everything needs to be held by the management team. Your life, your staff’s working life, the customer experience; will be much better if your staff are empowered to make decisions.
  • Reward: Pay as much as you can for the skills, experience and attitude your staff member brings to the job. However, reward is not just about money- shout morning tea, send a thank you email, take someone to coffee, say thank-you, tell someone they have done a good job- simple things that will make a difference.
  • Systemise: Develop systems that support the jobs that need to be done and the people doing them. Take out the hassle, the bureaucracy, the unnecessary steps and create more efficiency.
  • Continuously improve: develop a culture of continuous improvement, of looking for a better way and challenging the status quo. Have the conversations that matter to your organisation.

A strong and resilient organisation will withstand outside pressure and get better and better- and you will have a team who can help build it.

What makes a balanced organisation

Following on from my last post about strong and resilient organisations, this post is about balance in an organisation. Many years ago I came across the “Kaizen Square” as a tool in Total Quality Management (TQM). The square, seen below, describes perfect balance in an organisation where strategy (improvement and future plans) and maintenance (operations) are divided evenly across the organisation. While it was originally developed to suport TQM, it is an ideal illustration from which to develop an organisational development strategy.






Where would you place your line? Even if you are a sole operator, you will know instinctively where the line fits. To build a balanced organisation (and therefore a strong organisation) you need to think about where the line is, and what you have to do to move the line down.





Some steps you can take to move the line down are:

  • Identify all the tasks/roles you perform and allocate them to “Strategy” or “Maintenance”
  • Who is best suited to carrying out the task/role?
  • What training is needed to ensure the task/role can be carried out at the right level?
  • Develop a quality improvement culture to continue to “sharpen the pencil”

Effective implementation will help you to develop a stronger organisation by creating more balance, freeing up time to develop your organisation for the future.