Monday, June 16, 2014

Lean – Where are We Now? - Part 2

By Pascal Dennis

Last time, I invoked nature’s sigmoid curve and asked:
  1. Where on the curve are we now? Are we still in the state of accelerated growth – or has Lean leveled off?
  2. If the latter, how to create a new sigmoid curve? What are the obstacles and possible countermeasures?

We had a fine response, as usual – thanks. Seems the consensus is that Lean is levelling off and approaching a plateau, and I would agree.

If so, how do we get a new sigmoid curve going? How do we avoid the fate of numerous other worthy “improvement” paradigms (e.g. TQM, Business Process Reengineering et al)?

In my view, the key to generating a new upswing for Lean is two-fold:
  1. Double down on the principles and thinking behind Lean, and
  2. Extend Lean thinking upstream and downstream of Operations

I’ve written a book & blogged extensively on number 2.

What about number 1?

Increasingly, Lean is taught as a set of tools and practices – each worthy and helpful in their own right.

Visual management, 5 S, standardized work et al are splendid, effective practices – necessary, but not sufficient.

For a start, they’re unlikely to seize the imagination of, say, a Chief Information Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, or Chief Medical Officer – or of a CEO, for that matter.

I spend much of my time coaching such folks. They see the tools of Lean as ‘Operations’ stuff – helpful, but not transformational.

But the ideas & principles underlying Lean are as profound as those underlying medicine, law or engineering, or any great profession.

I was trained as a Chemical Engineer and learned the principles of heat transfer, mass transfer, fluid mechanics, unit operations and more.

It was understood that my job was to apply these principles in ever more complex situations – hence their power.

Lean principles are as powerful and as eternal, in my view.

We need to teach them as such, and challenge ourselves to apply them in more & more challenging and complex situations.

How well we do this will determine Lean’s trajectory over the next few decades.

(It’s the challenge to which we at Lean Pathways have dedicated ourselves.)

Our nemeses in this great endeavour?

Arrogance, complacency, fear – the eternal trifecta.

Should be an interesting decade.



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