Now I am not an expert on continuous improvement. I know enough to be dangerous, and realize there is a world of concepts in this arena I am still unfamiliar with. With that said, I am familiar with many Lean concepts and tools. I have participated in various Kaizen and 3S/5S/6S events. I understand Poka-Yoke, Kanban, A3s, Gemba Walks, and am well versed on all 8 of the deadly wastes. However, even with all that Lean has to offer and all there is to know, there is something fundamentally simple about the concept of Lean as a continuous improvement culture. That revelation has been something of an epiphany for me. The realization that beginning your corporate Lean journey does not have to be all that scary, complex or big. The understanding that Lean with all of its tools, methods, and benefits is actually; SMALL.
Let me explain. For the last nine years Tension Corporation has been on a Lean journey. As a manufacturer and supplier of envelopes, printed products, and mail-related services there are a lot of benefits our organization can derive from the implementation of Lean as our continuous improvement culture. However, as an organization we have experienced our share of setbacks throughout our Lean journey. Today however, we are seemingly finding our groove, eliminating waste and delivering value to our customers internally and externally. But how did we get here? What helped us get on the right path forward? Quite simply, the realization that Lean can be small. Small changes. Small improvements. Continuously performed by everyone, over and over.
You see Lean is less about understanding all the jargon and more about finding opportunities to eliminate waste. The more complex vocabulary and tools that black belts and Lean facilitators use to drive waste elimination and more substantial process improvement is something organizationally you can graduate to. But first, in order for any of it to work, a Lean culture needs to be developed. A culture where each employee feels empowered to contribute. A culture where it is the responsibility of everyone to find ways to eliminate waste from the tasks they perform at work each day.
2 Second Lean Journey
This concept was crystallized well for me by Paul Akers, Lean guru and author of “2 Second Lean”. In his book (which you can find the link for here http://paulakers.net/books/2-second-lean) Akers says to build a Lean culture you must first set an expectation that every employee is responsible to remove waste from their own activities as part of their job function every day. He does that by having his employees simply focus their improvement efforts on “fixing what bugs” them. Then having those employees initiate an improvement on that item. Something small, that eliminates waste in the process (any of the 8 different types of waste). Over time, by making those small improvements a priority in your organization, you begin to create a culture where everyone is engaged in continuous improvement and those small changes begin yielding big improvements and delivering value for your internal and external customers.
So if you are like 90% of the companies that start the Lean journey BIG and are stymied by sustaining your early gains or how to transform your business culture into a Lean culture, try taking a step back. Do not get consumed with all there is to know about Lean at first. Instead, keep it simple and start small. What you will find is that keeping the implementation of Lean small will help you remain consistent with your focus on waste elimination. That consistency of focus with all of your employees will help with your cultural transformation. Once the organizational culture transforms into a Lean culture you are heading in the right direction and your efforts can become more sophisticated and robust.
As I mentioned earlier, I am far from a Lean guru but this concept of keeping Lean small has worked for us. Therefore, I thought I would share it in the hopes that some of you might find this approach to Lean a little less daunting and more sustainable. Good luck on your journey!