Lean is Not Process Improvement
Which of the following is NOT synonymous with lean?
a. A culture
b. A mindset
c. Process Improvement
d. A philosophy
If you read the title of this piece, you’ll know the answer is C. Why then do so many people think they are the same? Maybe it’s because improving processes is a tangible way of ‘seeing’ lean in action. Maybe it’s because one person said they were synonymous and it spread like wildfire. How could something so wrong be so prevalent in the minds of people?
Don’t get me wrong, process improvement is certainly a big piece of the lean pie but many people forget that the REST of the pie is needed in order for the ultimate in process improvement to take place and be called lean.
The other necessary elements to complete the lean pie are:
• A coaching style of leadership: Can you restrain yourself from giving the answers and direction that might be appropriate and let people figure out things for themselves with subtle guidance? Can you encourage people to step outside their comfort zone?
• Acceptance and encouragement of experimentation: Can you simply ask ‘what did you learn’ or ‘how can this be improved’ if an experimental change to a process does not work? Can you be patient and allow the team to try new ideas?
• Not blaming others (even if they did make an error): Can you refrain from pointing the finger? Most people know they did something wrong. Instead of rubbing it in, help them recover. I haven’t met the perfect man or the perfect woman yet.
• Creating a safe environment in which team members can discuss problems and show red on a status report: Can you listen, not interrupt then ask challenge and learning questions about how to move forward?
• Ability to see and address waste: Can you do a waste walk (virtual or physical) and see waste? Can you see waste in your daily life outside of work? Can you show the waste to others and convince them to help address them?
• Deploying priorities and measures throughout the organization at every level: Can everyone on your team explain how their job affects the measures and vision of the organization?
• Promotions based on the use of, creation of and demonstration of all the above elements: Do you promote people based on these criteria or just based on whether they achieved their annual goals? Or because they are politically astute?
The next time someone uses ‘lean’ and ‘process improvement’ synonymously I challenge you to be a change agent and address it. If no one ever addresses it, the misuse of the phrase will continue. I suppose there are much worse things in life than to use these as synonyms but over time this will change the meaning of lean and the culture, mindset and philosophy may be lost.
-Debra Levantrosser, Co-Founder of the Michigan Lean Consortium
Lean in Action
The John and Marnie Demmer Center for Business Transformation was recently established by a significant gift to assist Michigan manufacturing businesses transform into lean, agile global competitors, increasing their presence and profitability in domestic as well as global markets, and opening the doors to new employment opportunities for Michigan workers. Through the Demmer Center, The Lean Apprenticeship Program provides MSU graduate and undergraduate students with the opportunity for “hands-on” learning by working on high-impact lean projects with partner organizations. For more information, contact Jim Manley or Kristin St. Marie.
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The Leaning Edge
The Leaning Edge Radio Show, led by MLC Co-Founder Debra Levantrosser, airs every Friday and Saturday on the Michigan Business Network.
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Victoria Lacasse is currently a Senior at Michigan State University and is studying Comparative Cultures and Politics, with a specialization in Muslim Studies at James Madison College. She also serves as a Resident Assistant on campus at Shaw Hall, a Student Assistant at the Demmer Center for Business Transformation and the Vice President of Communications for the MSU chapter of the Student Michigan Lean Consortium. Victoria has been working with the MLC for nearly two years now, and hopes to see many more Michigan students becoming involved in the next few years!