Lean ThinkingWritten by Scott Zimmerman
"Lean" seems to be everywhere. What started as Western manufacturers emulating Toyota's unique production methods has now been implemented in every industry from healthcare to the public sector. There is Lean Accounting, Lean Sigma, Lean Service – I’ve even seen ‘Value-Based Lean Six Sigma (VBLSS) teams – now there’s a mouthful! The tools springing from this "methodology" are point-effective. By that I mean that the tools are effective at solving a single problem, but unless the underlying philosophy is embraced, the result will be limited to that issue, that point.
What's missing is a Lean Mindset. We run around the operation as hammers, seeing nails everywhere. Instead, we need to give voice to our inner engineer, and our inner leadership guru. Engineers stake their careers on analyzing problems and designing solutions, and the leadership gurus facilitate change in an organization. If we, as operators, supervisors, managers, and executives have a common approach to our work and our work environment, we think not of 'change', but 'improvement'. We also think of improvement as global - if my job gets easier, but my internal customer's or supplier's job gets harder, it may or may not be the right move, depending on the overall cycle time, transparency, and quality.
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The best leaders in the military are not what Jim Collins would call "Level 4 Leaders". Contrary to popular lore, they are not heroes. In fact, one of the tenets of Lean is to create a team, not heroes. Having literally led a team of courageous firefighters, I know that it is difficult to create the mindset of peacetime operations. Everyday activities, the management of the mundane, takes discipline and will, but not individual "above and beyond the call of duty" courage. Fire prevention is the answer, not putting out fires. How many times have we been told that an ounce of precaution is worth a pound of cure, but we reward the firefighter, not the fire preventer. Daily operations call for making the job easier, not overcoming adversity to get the job done.
The Lean Mindset, then, is thinking constantly in terms of global improvement, creating self-managing, closed-loop systems, and developing an organization that values predictable operations that obviate the need for heroic comebacks.