Learning to lean

Lean Management Journal editor Victoria Fitzgerald reflects on some of the recent articles featured in the journal to emphasise the possible impact of lean methodology and culture.

Victoria Fitzgerald
Lean Management Journal Editor, Victoria Fitzgerald

Lean has well and truly established itself as the dominant value-adding methodology in the manufacturing world. The fascination with Toyota’s exponential growth and waste elimination up until, and now after the recent financial crisis, has compelled leadership everywhere to re-evaluate its processes.

At a World Bank Conference in October last year, economist and Nobel Prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz said the winning solution to modern industrial policy was “learning to learn” and with every article we receive at LMJ, it is clear that focus always returns to the alteration of organisational culture. Lean is something that an organisation is, not something it does.

As the UK works towards a zero waste economy, leadership is taking the best elements of lean and creating bespoke systems that specially cater to it.

To reveal how more firms are adopting these systems we are sharing a cross section of articles from February and March’s LMJ to showcase how management is utilising and personalising lean. February’s issue looked at turnaround situations and March examined ways to sustain lean, both issues revealed that lean success depends on a firm’s ability to change its culture.

Casting your own burning platform

Lean consultant Jeremy Butler embarked on a journey to save his family’s 50-year-old engineering business from collapse.

Jeremy Butler returned to the Midlands in the late 1990s after stints in the US and London. He said of the experience: “With a degree in economics and two jobs under my belt, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I had visions of shaking up the fuddy duddy old engineering world.”

His grandfather had started the business in 1952 and his father had developed the organisation into one of the largest independent aluminium foundries in the UK.

“Our quality statistics were actually very good, however we achieved this by inspecting the defects – not designing in ‘right first time’ quality.” Butler delivered training sessions on lean, waste, flow, internal customer/ suppliers concepts; he organised kaizen events and he reorganised the factory floor.

However, Butler attributed the turnaround to the people that accepted and adopted the lean intervention.

“The people made it happen. The knowledge of how to better organise ourselves was within us, we didn’t need telling. We just needed to listen, and then provide the leadership and support to help make it happen.

“Our lean journey achieved so much, we took cost out, improved logistics and made our customers happier. The powerful part was how people’s lives were impacted.”

He turned to author and poet Maya Angelou, to sum up the lean journey: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Read the full article here.

Warehouses: Investment worthy or waste?

Dr. Payam Dehdari, senior manager of corporate sector purchasing and logistics at Bosch collaborated with Prof Kai Furmans, head of the Institute of Material Handling Systems and Logistics at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, to provide LMJ with the case study results of a two-year project in 16 Bosch warehouses in seven countries.

An internal Bosch survey showed a serious gap between the lean maturity level achieved in production compared with the level achieved in the warehouses. To close the gap, Bosch began the Warehouse Excellence (WE) project to evaluate the adaption of the Bosch Production System. The impact measurement would form the basis for a worldwide rollout in 800 warehouses.

The project ran from November 2010 to March 2012 and contained 16 warehouses as part of the WE group compared to a control group of 56. The WE group were given access to:

  1. Bosch logistics workshops, providing a mix of theory and practice in a training warehouse;
  2. Guided learning groups enabling rotational visits to different warehouses;
  3. Visits from Bosch interdisciplinary local teams (BILT) where experts coached beside the warehouse manager.

The WE group increased its productivity by 14% compared to a three per cent increase in the control group.

The study proved lean had a positive impact on performance indicators, which Dr. Payam Dehdari concluded should support managerial decisions to invest in lean activities in warehouses.

Read the full article here.

The lean generation effect

Lean Six Sigma black belt Karyn Ross, along with her teacher Leslie Henckler and her mentor Mary Osmolski shared their unique journey spanning three generations of lean.

From Taiichi Ohno, to Shingijutsu, Mr. Iwata, Mr. Nakao and Mr. Nagamatsu, through Mary Osmolski, to Leslie Henckler, to Karyn Ross. Three individuals learning to think and teach by asking questions enables others to learn, think and solve problems.

Mary and Leslie spent most of their careers working in manufacturing. Karyn has been entirely in services. Speaking of what she learned from her mentors Karyn said: ”By having an open, inquiring mind, I could just let them teach me at the same time they were figuring out a better way.”

The Toyota Production System is fundamentally about asking people to change. Change is never easy. TPS taught the trio that if they wanted lasting, sustainable change they needed to work with a group; not mandate to a group. Mary said: “In order to do that, I had to really learn about people and take the time to understand where they were coming from and what was important to them.

“I also learned that asking a question is always more effective than shutting down and arguing. Once I did that I could always find a common ground. That has been a life lesson.”

Read the full article here.