Use Lean Everyday

While many initiate projects and implement Lean tools to achieve short-term objectives, the key to long-term organizational success is engaging everyone in Operational Excellence practices each and every day.

First of all, what is Lean?  It is a systematic focus on comprehensive, continuous improvement processes that deliver more customer value by eliminating waste to increase flow and reduce variability. These processes reduce complexity, which increases quality and reduces both time and costs associated with the process.  It encompasses a wide range of practices that tie organizations together to achieve a common customer-centered vision.

Many organizations implement Lean through the use of specialized groups of individuals (Black Belts, Green Belts).  These specialists are engaged by management (Champions) to complete x number of defined Lean Projects per year in order to achieve Lean benefits in those areas.  While the results at the end of these projects can be notable (e.g., 20% savings or more) in the identified areas, the results may only be short term, and overall, have limited organizational impact.  Why?  Because, ‘projects’ don’t change the fundamental way everyone views their role in delivering their organization’s vision (limited, if any, connection), the way they work together, their responsibilities to each other and to their customers, and their willingness to trust their organization (to reap the benefits from their improvement efforts).

To achieve the long-term benefits from Lean and Organizational Excellence, everyone needs to understand what it is, how to manage within its framework, how to engage in it, to trust it, and to benefit from it.  The trickledown theory that enough projects can be completed to expose everyone to the philosophy and convert everyone to its use rarely happens.  How can it, if it violates the philosophy of continuous improvement?  Projects are not continuous; they are sporadic and limited in exposure.  Lean needs to be done every single day, all the time, by all individuals, in order to be effective.  You need to have a culture that permeates the entire organization and is at the heart and soul of the enterprise.  Limited projects, slogans and placards will not suffice.

I had the privilege of working for an organization where Operational Excellence was at the heart of its culture.  The company achieved high employee and customer satisfaction and trust.  In its category, it achieved the highest sales growth and profitability levels, year after year, and had commanding leads in many product categories.  Every employee, in every department, was focused on doing their part to satisfy the company’s customers.  The organization used scientific approaches in all aspects of its business and everyone and every system was focused on satisfying customers. Counter to other organizations, the focus was not on justifying expenses at every stage of development and production, but on what would happen if customers were disappointed and became less satisfied and less loyal. In fact, many times, more expensive ingredients and packaging were employed to ensure customer loyalty.  This customer-centric focus resulted in increased customer trust, loyalty and advocacy that allowed the company to avoid the pitfalls of expensive discounting, price wars, recalls and poor publicity that would have reduced profits (and increased complexity).

Engaging everyone, everyday, is the key to organizational success and achieving the benefits promised by Lean management.  The comprehensive benefits promised by Lean cannot be achieved piecemeal, but must flow out of everyone’s understanding and everyday implementation of Operational Excellence practices that are focused on delivering customer value.

About the AuthorCharles Shillingburg CLSSBB, Lean Sensei is an expert in Continuous Improvement in the service area. He developed the Interim Outcomes, Total Brand Approach and offers education on What Customers Value and Everyday Lean that helps organizations focus their efforts on increasing customer value and engage everyone in Lean delivery, everyday.


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