The Three Stages of Lean Transformation

As our knowledge and practice of Lean has developed, many of us have come to the conclusion that there is no standardised “one size fits all” roadmap or sequence that details every step of “how to implement Lean” for every organisation. But there are three vital stages that it makes sense to follow. Here they are:

1. Grasp the Current Situation. A full understanding – by all team members – of the current situation, is the essential starting point for any improvement activity. Questions to ask might include: Exactly where are we now? What are we trying to do here? What is our purpose, our mission? How do we add value for our customers? Honestly, how are we performing now? Are our measurement systems capable of telling us? Are we collecting (only) the right information to help us to make decisions and to take action?

2. Achieve Stability. What are the most important processes in your business? How do you develop new products or services? How do you deliver them? How do you plan, execute and measure the vital few? How do you manage your people, from cradle to grave? Are these processes capable, under control and stable? How do you sustain “One Best Way”: do you provide clear instruction, effective training, regular monitoring, wide-spread mistake-proofing?

3. Implement Lean. Only now can you begin to change the way you work, with a real prospect of success and sustained improvement. Once you have stable, repeatable processes you can analyse them and find ways to do them better. With the right tools and support the team can simplify and streamline the processes so that you become more efficient and more productive, and achieve better outcomes.

The detail of how to do it – and the exact tools to use – are gained only through years of experience. If you don’t yet have that experience you’ll need to hire it in, but make sure that you coach your people so that they “learn by doing”. By following this approach, and by rigorously following the PDCA Improvement Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act), you can genuinely transform your organisation and make Continuous Improvement a way of life.

Coalition And Floating Voter – Not Just General Election Buzz Words But Relevant To Lean Manufacturing Too

coalition blog graphic

By Andrew Nicholson, Managing Director of Nicholson Consultancy Ltd

With British politics moving away from three main parties and fragmenting into much wider choice, the prediction is that this week’s election will end up with another coalition Government.

However, politics and governing a country are not the only arenas where a coalition framework can be adopted – Lean Manufacturing needs a ‘Guiding Coalition’ to succeed.

This is because the hardest aspect of creating a truly Lean organisation is creating the right culture – a positive “can do” approach that challenges accepted norms and continuously seeks a better way.

And the hardest step is always the first.

That’s why it’s essential to start working with the right people.

At the most senior level, top management must be committed to making Lean happen – there needs to be a critical mass; what Dr John Kotter calls the “Guiding Coalition”.

Once we have that commitment, we need to understand how people will react to change, and we need to know how we should manage them.

In any group of people faced with significant change, we can expect a whole range of responses. If we drew these on a graph, they’d often follow what statisticians call a “normal distribution”; more commonly described as a “bell curve” or 2:6:2 curve, as shown in the diagram.

At the negative end of the curve we have a small number of people – typically 20% of the total – who actively oppose change. They’re sometimes referred to as the CAVE-dwellers: Completely Against Virtually Everything.

And keeping to the election analogy, in the middle we have the bulk of people, perhaps 60% – the “floating voters” who can be swayed in either a positive or a negative direction.

And over at the positive end of the spectrum we have another small group – typically 20% of the total – who are positive about change and at least prepared to give it a go.

Here’s the key point that many managers don’t understand: if you want to make change happen, work with the willing – the positive 10%.

These people are the Change Agents – at The Lean Consortium we call them the Lean Leaders – and they’re absolutely crucial to the success of Lean in any organisation.

These are the people that we work with to start the ball rolling, and get some “quick wins”. And this is what they look like:

• Keen to make a difference
• Accepts the need for change
• Eager to learn / seeks development opportunities
• Respected by peers and management
• Influential, with good people skills
• Able to overcome resistance and get things done

At the same time, it’s vital that you avoid getting bogged down with the CAVE-dwellers at the other end of the spectrum – these “energy vampires” can suck out every last ounce of positivity if you let them.

By all means listen to what they say – they just might have some good ideas – but don’t spend too much time with them, and don’t waste time trying to convert them to the cause. Your time is much better spent with the other folk.

By working with the willing you’ll find that life is a lot easier: you’ll get some “Quick Wins”, the “floating voters” will begin to get on board and you’ll build up the momentum that you need to sustain continuous improvement across the organisation.

How UK manufacturers can manage their energy usage for competitive advantage

Stephen Beard - Copy

Stephen Beard, from Gazprom Energy UK, explores how UK manufacturers can gain a competitive edge through effective energy management.

With energy prices on the increase, effective energy management plays an important role in almost all UK businesses – and this is the case in manufacturing businesses outfits more than most. A recent report by Siemens uncovered that 90% of UK manufacturers discuss energy management at board level, with almost 80% agreeing that managing energy is now a business-critical function.

While business continuity is considered key for this recent surge in interest, for many, the ability to gain a competitive advantage is the main driver in their energy efficiency efforts.

In this post, I’m going to run through a few of the ways that UK manufacturers can take control of the energy usage for a greater competitive edge and a higher profit margin.

Effective energy procurement
As many manufacturing professionals will well know, understanding the volatile wholesale energy market, negotiating with suppliers and choosing the best contract type can present big challenges and can be a significant drain on resources. Yet cost reduction in the purchasing process is vital to ensure competitiveness.

Depending on consumption levels, some businesses choose to appoint a dedicated member of staff to energy procurement. However, the use of energy partners or ‘brokers’ is considered a more cost-effective way of staying on top of the energy spend. A broker can talk to you about the range of contracts available from various suppliers and, more importantly, the value of each against the short and long-term forecasts for the market.

Appointing ‘energy champions’
Harnessing the energy spend by choosing the right contract is an essential starting point in making progress in energy management – but for serious energy savings, the work doesn’t stop there. The cost-saving benefit of internal monitoring and management on an on-going basis shouldn’t be underestimated. For those serious about gaining a competitive edge through reduced production costs, a company-wide behavioural shift is crucial.

It’s for this reason that some firms are starting to appoint ‘Energy Champions’, i.e. members of staff that are given roles and responsibilities designed to ‘champion’ energy-efficient behaviours amongst their colleagues. Depending on how much resource can be allocated to this, ‘Energy Champions’ might be responsible for anything from developing ideas for day-to-day awareness and improvement, to implementation of energy-saving strategy and feedback and reporting.

Providing the roles are taken seriously, ‘Energy Champions’ can be really effective for embedding the importance of energy efficient practices through the company.

Energy auditing
Likewise, to stay effective your energy-saving programme should be subject to continuous review. A good evaluation process should include regular energy audits, during which you look at:
Assessment of bills and meter readings: To establish peaks and troughs in consumption over several months
Compiling a checklist: Of energy-using equipment and machinery to be inspected for efficiency. Include even the most everyday expenses like office lighting and heating, as well as cooling and ventilation, equipment, machinery and processes.

An audit should highlight any inefficient or energy-sapping activities. This could be something as simple as the office lights not being turned off out of hours, or as critical as energy draining machinery being turned off and on again rather than using energy efficient standby options, in between production runs.

As well as allowing you to identify where savings can be made, regular audits also allow recognition of successes, which can often be passed through the business as morale-boosters.

Parting shot
There is no quick fix when it comes to energy efficiency improvements in manufacturing and it takes time before you can see a tangible return on your efforts. However, in an energy-intensive industry, the benefits of harnessing usage and spend can be extraordinary.

Though, according to Siemens, it seems most manufacturers have really started to take hold of energy management, I’d urge production managers and procurement specialists to take an even closer look at the energy spend and consider the options. With foresight and planning, taking control of energy usage can make way for a greater competitive edge and a higher profit margin.

About Gazprom Energy
Gazprom Energy is one of the UK’s leading business energy suppliers, offering a range of competitive business gas and electricity contracts for manufacturers.

The future’s bright, the future’s Lean

Andrew Nicholson
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.

What opportunities does the Circular Economy offer Lean Manufacturing?

By Andrew Nicholson, Managing Director of Nicholson Consultancy Ltd

A fundamental shift is taking place within a range of industries, not least, the manufacturing sector.

The traditional way of working has been in a linear fashion where resources are obtained, shaped into products, used and disposed of.

However, as raw materials diminish and become more scarce or expensive, businesses are turning their attention to making the most use of what is available.

As a result, a new model is emerging that has been dubbed the ‘Circular Economy’ where products are remade, resold or recycled in some cases many times over.

The circular economy is all about doing more with less and minimising waste with new products assembled from materials obtained from old ones through reclamation, remanufacture and recycling or the operational life of a component is extended through refurbishment.

So does this offer any opportunities for the ‘Lean Manufacturer’?

In my opinion, the answer is most definitely yes.

From an efficiency point of view, it does not matter whether what is being used as the basis for a product is from an original source or is reusing or recycling materials.

Any type of manufacturing can be scrutinised and fine-tuned so that wastes of time and effort are eliminated from the entire process – which means from the minute a customer’s order is received to the delivery of the finished product.

The scope for employing lean principles will widen as they easily and effectively can be applied to industries that decide to embrace the Circular Economy as part of their operations.

Indeed, the values and ideology behind Lean Manufacturing and the Circular Economy are comparable. The Circular Economy is about minimising waste through reusing components rather than disposing of them while Lean is about making sure that time and effort is not wasted during the manufacturing processes.

These demonstrate the compatibility of Lean and the Circular Economy. And as the Circular Economy grows, which I believe it will, the use of Lean has the potential to expand proportionately.

What have we learnt from 30 years of applying Lean in the West?

By Andrew Nicholson, Managing Director of Nicholson Consultancy Ltd

Lean works best when everyone in the company – from the chief executive to the most junior member of staff – buys in to the strategy, and benefits from it.

This is easier said than done as it is human nature to resist change and to want to hang on to the status quo.

For lean to succeed the entire workforce has to be involved from the very start.

People need to feel that they are central to the introduction and implementation of lean and that it is not merely a ‘pie in the sky’ diktat from above; another management initiative imposed without any employee involvement.

Many people’s first reaction is to ask – ‘what’s in it for me’. I have learnt that this sort of question should not be dismissed as a selfish response and should not be sidestepped with a ‘for the greater good of the company’ reply.

Tackling this question head-on is the best tactic. Show people how embracing the principles of lean will make their job easier; that it will be a case of working smarter, not harder in the future.

Employees should be encouraged to contribute and it must be shown that their ideas and suggestions will be listened, taken seriously and acted upon. Think about starting with some short, sharp ideas workshops. Use “Ease and Effect” to prioritise employee ideas and make sure you get some “quick wins” to show the benefits.
Another lesson is that one size does not fit all. Every firm has elements of individuality which have evolved due to its history and how its products have been refined and developed. This is often what helps it stand out in the market-place.

Just as a doctor would not give the same pill to different patients with different symptoms, the same applies to lean manufacturing.
An off-the-shelf lean package will not do – what works for Toyota might not work for you! Solutions have to be tailored to an individual company’s operation and relevant goals need to be drawn up.

Partnering with the right outside help is essential in the early days. Managers and employees have experience and knowledge about the way their company works and lean practitioners are experts in the principles of lean. Embracing a partnership approach ensures that a company uses the right lean tools and techniques that exactly meet its individual requirements, and that skills and knowledge are transferred into the business.

And last, but not least, it has become apparent during the last three decades that lean does not just apply to industrial giants, but can be relevant to and employed by small and medium enterprises in pretty much any sector who want to improve their processes and operations.

Lean Start-Ups: are they possible?

The short answer is “Yes” it is possible to start Lean and stay Lean. Here’s how:

It is important to keep it simple and stay organised. This can be achieved by adopting Lean 5S principles, which is a system to reduce waste and optimise productivity through maintaining an orderly workplace and using visual cues.

This includes making sure anyone can find anything quickly and easily. Keep things simple and visual – can people easily see at a glance what’s OK and what isn’t?

Focus on the following main three business areas:

• Sales – getting the work in / engaging with the customer
• Operations – getting the work done / delivering
• Finance – managing the cash, funding the growth

Employees should be made aware of how they fit into the company structure and what their contribution needs to be to make the business run smoothly, effectively and efficiently.

To achieve this:
• Write down each role and give it a name or a description
• Write down the main purpose of the role and exactly how its provides value to the customer
• Outline “what a good job looks like” – the best way / tricks of the trade, and pitfalls to avoid

Next draw up a grid with the roles along one side and people’s names along the other. For each job show with an R who is Responsible, with a D who Deputises, and with an A who Assists so employees know at a glance what their duties are.

Regular communication is key. For at least one hour each week talk about what’s going well, what’s not going well and what ideas you have to make things better.

By consensus, pick one improvement idea that is easiest to implement, has the highest impact and is affordable. Agree who will make it happen, and when, and get on with it.

Hire slowly, fire quickly. Be clear about values, expectations, Do’s and Don’ts. With new staff, have a one-to-one review for 15 minutes each day, then one hour per week, then one hour per month.

Make a conscious decision to retain or part company at the end of the first day, the first week, the first month. If it isn’t working in the first month, it probably never will. Let people take risks, make mistakes and fail, but expect them to learn and not to repeat their mistakes.

Do the absolute minimum required to add value for the customer – everything else is waste. Keep it simple, keep it electronic, and automate it.

Store data in only one place, share it and organise it so that anyone can easily find what they need.

Seriously consider scalable, cloud-based “pay as you go” systems. Use non-proprietary open systems where you can.

Similarly, do the absolute minimum that you need to do with a new product or process to see if it works. This is what Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries calls the MVP – the Minimum Viable Prototype.

Experiment quickly, fail early, learn as you go and keep on learning.

The key to Lean is the improvement cycle Plan-Do-Check-Act. In a start-up the most important thing is to get along the learning curve as quickly as you can.

Therefore, you need to cycle through these stages as quickly as you can. You’ll need some sort of plan to start with, but also be prepared to be flexible. This is because the reality is likely to be different from your original plan, so you have to learn as you go.

Have a tight control on costs by keeping fixed overheads to a minimum, outsourcing non-core tasks, “paying as you go” and avoiding long-term tie-ins.

Continually question the reasoning behind any action plan. Always ask yourself ‘does this add value for our customer’, ‘does it make us more profitable’, and ‘does it make things easier for us?’

Manage the cash every day, without fail. This can be easily one by using a simple spreadsheet.

The Lean process is all about keeping it simple, focusing on what matters, learning quickly what works and having the courage to ditch what doesn’t.

Business Growth Service (England)

On Friday 5 December, the UK Government announced the launch of the Business Growth Service which integrates the existing GrowthAccelerator and Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) programmes, along with the Intellectual Property Office Intellectual Property (IP) Audits and the Design Council Design Mentoring.

The Business Growth Service will make it easier for businesses with the potential, capability and capacity to improve and grow to access expert advice and support. Depending on the support they need, businesses will also be introduced by the Business Growth Service to experts from other Government services including UK Trade & Investment, UK Enterprise Fund, Innovate UK and local growth hubs.

Further details will be announced in the next few days but the following are important changes to names, brands and websites:

1. Introduction of new name and brand: Today the Government will make a formal announcement about our new brand name and look. As we move towards the full transition in April next year, this new brand will be used alongside our old brands in our marketing collateral. Next week you will receive further guidance about available marketing collateral.

2. New website address: As of today both the MAS and GrowthAccelerator websites have closed. The new website homepage is and individual services have been relocated to and

Factory fortnight? I think we need it!

The annual closure of factories across Britain always arouses some interesting debate.

Do we all need the break, is it good for strategy planning… or is it an anachronism past its sell-by date?

Bearing in mind the latest manufacturing figures, maybe the timing this year has been a good thing.

A burst of energy in the three months leading up to July dragged us back into a positive figure – but well below what we needed and the headlines were all about bad news and how the smiling service sector was overshadowing gloomy manufacturing.

So maybe we should call a time-out. Take a deep breath, refocus, re-energise and crank up the country’s production lines to grab back the headlines and reclaim our place at the controls of the manufacturing powerhouse.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint, but this isn’t the Commonwealth Games. We’re not working hard month after month for one medal ceremony.

Our companies have their final dash for the line every day. They reach their performance peak and then have to do it again the next day. And again. And again.

It’s been a frenetic time – an exhausting and demanding responsibility for tens of thousands of workers.

So my advice would be: take that time out, use it wisely and then be prepared to rewrite the headlines when you’re back on the factory floor.

Manufacturing growth continues to drive economy

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics have given the UK manufacturing industry cause for optimism.

It has been revealed that factories far exceeded growth expectations for the month of February as the recovery continued to gather pace.

Manufacturing output expanded by 1 percent, its third consecutive monthly rise and its largest increase since last September.

Overall industrial production rose 0.9 percent and saw almost every sub-sector grow.

The strong performance provided hope for those who have been concerned that a recovery led by household spending would be unsustainable.

George Buckley, UK economist at Deutsche Bank, said: “Were industrial production to remain flat in March, then output would be around 1 percent higher in the first quarter than the previous quarter. This in turn, would be the best quarterly performance of the sector since spring 2010.”

Samuel Tombs, of Capital Economics, added that the figures “provide reassurance that the economic recovery has remained strong and broad-based.”

Andrew Nicholson, Managing Director of business improvement consultants Nicholson Consultancy, commented: “We’re seeing a definite upturn with most of our manufacturing clients – in fact, we’re currently helping three UK manufacturers to cope with unprecedented levels of customer demand.

“Successful manufacturers are adopting the principles of Value-Driven Manufacturing – they’re using Lean principles not just to drive down costs but to get closer to their customers and to add more and more value to their overall offering. And in some sectors customers are actively seeking to bring back to the UK products that were previously outsourced to low-wage economies.

“From the point of view of the UK economy we still need to drive up levels of investment and exports but so far the signs are very encouraging”.