Finding the right balance

Posted on 11 Jan 2008 by The Manufacturer

Steve Boam discusses the elements that are needed to build the foundations of a true ‘lean enterprise’

T here are many elements to running a successful business, dependent on culture, product, sector and customer. When integrating ‘lean thinking’ as a business operating methodology, many companies focus purely on training or process, with few developing an integrated or balanced approach, in terms of process, people (training) and vision, or objectives and planning.

I have met many organisations in the commercial and particularly in the public sector where the training budgets are almost as large as the operating budgets, and some of the training on offer is very comprehensive. One could argue that too much ‘gold plating’ surrounding the level of training is actually developing the wrong culture, instead of developing people to benefit the internal organisation, more often than not organisations are developing staff turnover and providing a comprehensive leavers training scheme. Again training is a requirement to ensure we develop our people, and equip them to manage and challenge our process or the status quo.

When considering process we should always start with our customers and understand their needs, wants and requirements. This allows us to design a series of processes (end-to-end) to ensure we can deliver what is required, when it is required, and to a desirable level of quality and cost.

Too often, I see brilliant strategies, with little thought on how to deliver or sustain through process, discipline and a behaviour. There are lots of lean stories around that focus purely on process, with no tangible link to the vision or value proposition of the business – the value proposition being what we are offering the market and/or customers in terms of product or service.

To become world, market or a class leading business requires the right mix of three key elements.
Firstly, vision and planning: translating a high level corporate vision, using measurable and achievable targets. Converting key performance indicators (KPIs) into user friendly language and delivery plans, with clear objectives providing a means to deliver an effective change initiative through.

Secondly, management and behaviour: clearly defined roles and responsibilities and well executed change management focusing on process discipline and developing teamwork will ensure people get involved, contribute in a positive manner to become enthused as ambassadors for lean or change throughout an organisation.

Lastly, process design: clearly defined and transparent processes allow any organisation to operate effectively and efficiently, and to embed sustainability.

With the key elements explained, we should finish on the invisible glue that binds or holds them together. Methods of measurement, policy deployment and leadership need to be in place to ensure continuity and consistency throughout the business. This also allows us to measure change and effectiveness.

Few lean transformations consider all of the above, and again there are no fixed rules on what to do first or in which order. The trick is to engage the right people and the people who can truly contribute by supporting their ideas and extracting their understanding and knowledge.

So before you start on any programme of change why not ask the experts – your own staff!