Lean on me

Posted on 7 Mar 2013

Roberto Priolo, editor of TM’s sister publication Lean Management Journal, on international lean deployments and not forgetting the fundamentals of lean’s core tool set.

Roberto Priolo, Editor of the Lean Management Journal
Roberto Priolo, Editor of the Lean Management Journal

In a recent interview with LMJ Mauro Pino, head of world class manufacturing at Chrysler Group (p46), made an interesting distinction between understanding the importance of communicating lean methodology and the way the methodology is communicated.

The truth of his observation is made starkly clear when national cultural differences come into play in lean implementations.

While the problems people encounter in deploying lean techniques and establishing lean behaviours may be similar the world over, the way in which tools and approaches are communicated can vary widely – sometimes simply due to available vocabulary – let alone national attitudes.

Fiat’s World Class Manufacturing model provides a framework for improvement that is successfully applied in 170 plants around the world. The WCM Association comprises organisations including Unilever, Iveco, CNH , Chrysler and Royal Mail.

The interview with Mr Pino is a huge bonus to the March issue of LMJ which focuses on how to deploy and measure the success of lean across international boundaries with consistency.

Another company featured in the March edition, logistics specialist Panalpina, tells how each geographical area of the business contributes to the achievement of global goals and to the refinement of ideas, sometimes created elsewhere.

This is how a KPI board, travelling from the United States to China and then to the Netherlands, became a KPI communications cube – an enhanced solution that better responded to the overall company needs.

As ever, the core challenge in international lean success is involving people. If you get it right this can create a flexible, powerful lean enterprise. Leadership is essential and the March issue of LMJ demonstrates this with a great example from Coskunoz, a Turkish automotive supplier, which revolutionised its entire front-line leadership structure to allow for increased employee motivation.

And although getting culture change and reforming traditional business structures is painful, results can multiply once the ball gets rolling. LMJ saw this in the story of Tuscany’s healthcare system. After a hospital in Florence successfully applied lean techniques, the regional government decided that was something worth exploring throughout the region.

Two years later, 12 out 16 Trusts operating in Tuscany have launched an improvement programme. I am not sure how familiar you are with Italian stubbornness, but as an Italian national let me tell you that what the Tuscans did to transform one of the most static and wasteful public structures in Italy is quite extraordinary.

Yes, it’s all about culture. But what about the tools?

Every lean practitioner and expert will warn you against the risk of seeing lean simply as a bunch of tools that you can use to magically make your company more profitable – an error still made by a large proportion of those who see themselves to be ‘doing lean’. But the fact is that the methodology would not exist without its valuable tool set.

The tools need to be used with sensitivity to context and for the right purpose. But they must be technically understood! Can you imagine how wasteful it would be to draw a value stream map or fill in a balanced scorecard in the wrong way?! We need to know how to use the tools as well as appreciating why. To get back to basics and make sure we are not making simple errors in the use of tools which will influence the success of lean in our organisations, the April edition of LMJ will let the ‘tool-heads’ loose.

Among others, we’ll hear from Professor John Bicheno, author of The Lean Toolbox and Alice Lee, vice president of business transformation at Beth Israeli Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, who will explain the hospital’s use of visual management.

We will also travel to India for our It’s a lean world special and get an exclusive insight into product development at Harley Davidson.

Finally, I would like to remind you that the LMJ Annual Conference will take place in Birmingham on May 21-22. It will be a tremendous opportunity for companies of all sectors and sizes to hear from some of the world’s most enthusiastic lean thinkers and get invaluable insight into what it takes to become a true lean enterprise.

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