Monday, January 19, 2015

Reprise: 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?

These questions have triggered fine discussions within our Lean Pathways team and among all our friends & colleagues.

Seems the consensus is that Lean is levelling off and approaching a plateau. Lean has ‘won’, if you will.

Lean/Continuous Improvement has developed roots in most Fortune 500 companies, and across a broad range of industries.

We have a significant and growing number of splendid Lean organizations.

It would be easy to rest on our oars. But if we did, we’d risk the fate of numerous other worthy “improvement” paradigms (e.g. TQM, Business Process Reengineering et al).

Here’s our next challenge: How do we get a new sigmoid curve going?

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 {The Remedy] & 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. I 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 (Hubris), complacency, fear – the eternal trifecta.

Should be an interesting year - and decade.

Best, Pascal

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