By Andrew Nicholson, Managing Director of Nicholson Consultancy Ltd
After more than three decades of applying Lean in the West, perhaps the most important thing – and one that we’re still learning – is that Lean is a philosophy and a way of life, not just a set of tools and techniques.
I strongly believe that Lean has a bright future as it is more relevant now than it’s ever been in today’s fast-changing, quality-driven business environment.
We seem to live in a society where many citizens have a deep distrust of politicians, government and business.
In response, many of us actively seek out people and organisations we feel we can trust, whose values and objectives we share or at least feel we have some common cause with.
This is one reason why I believe that genuinely Lean organisations will survive and prosper.
In my opinion, organisations that value an open, learning culture and have respect for people – one of the key tenets of Lean – will almost naturally adopt Lean as part of their way of doing business.
Because they learn, Lean organisations will adapt and improve, and most will ultimately succeed.
Their employees become genuinely engaged, they “buy in” to the values of their organisation and they continually ask “What’s the Lean way to do this?”
Customers receive real value from a Lean organisation and are actively consulted – even directly involved – in future developments. They also “buy in”, becoming loyal followers, advocates or even zealots.
We’ve also learnt that Lean means much more than just Lean Manufacturing.
Although many manufacturers first use Lean tools and techniques in their production facilities, those who “get it” soon realise that there’s a lot more to manufacturing than production or assembly.
They go on to apply Lean across every area of their business, and then on through their Supply Chains, forming long-term partnerships with others who share their values and who also “think Lean”.
And Lean is spreading far beyond manufacturing. Healthcare, law enforcement, government and the military, software development and education are just some of the many areas where Lean principles are transforming traditional ways of working.
I see this as a continuing trend: applying the Lean philosophy to more and more organisations and sectors, and ultimately to more and more aspects of our daily lives – another reason why I believe that Lean has a bright future.
Finally, and particularly important in an economic downturn, we’re understanding that Lean is not about cost-cutting, outsourcing, off-shoring, down-sizing and lay-offs.
On the contrary, most of our clients are using Lean to grow, to in-source and to re-shore.
They understand that the true meaning of Lean is about delivering Value: truly understanding their customers’ needs, providing them with more and more genuine value, and exceeding their expectations.
Pulling all of this together then, into what you might call a Lean Mission Statement, I’d say that today’s Lean pioneers understand that their future success requires the marshalling of Purpose, People and Processes, to deliver value to customers, to employees and to stakeholders.
That’s why I see a bright future for those who truly embrace Lean. And in my next blog I’ll explain how this combination of Purpose, People and Processes is driving the future success of Lean organisations.