I read an article yesterday asking whether Lean can help with regards to corporate strategy, not just operational efficiency. I’m not sure which bothers me more; that we are still asking this question or that so many of us seem to have answered it incorrectly in the past. Efficiency itself is not a strategy, although any MBA will tell you that cost leadership is a strategy. My MBA Ops Prof said Lean was no longer (if ever) a differentiation strategy – everyone was doing it – thus to stay in the game you had to do it too. So it’s not sufficient for an overall business strategy.
Well, that is what most would believe if they followed Lean in many discussion forums & in the general media surrounding Lean. Because all we ever seem to talk about is removing waste, deliver value, flow, JIT, etc. We speak so much about the tools, techniques and inherent principles. In fact, when it comes to Lean it is probably like our brains – in general we only use about 10%-15% of the capability. We focus on the easily observable, but forget the importance of that which we cannot see.
I really liked the article mentioned, besides the numerous mentions of “Dynamic”, it focuses more on the underlying value of Lean, besides the performance of the operation Lean provides something far more valuable than any efficiency figures. Flexibility, Adaptability, Dynamism whatever one wants to call it. Organisations that react quickly to easily identified problems followed by learning from each event are able to set the pace for the industry, for the market.
They can identify problems quickly (SEE) because they build their systems with that purpose in mind. They solve problems quickly (SOLVE) because they have practiced this over & over again and because they have the structure in place to support real problem solving, not just getting through the day. They learn as an organisation (SHOW) because they have those social networks & structural mechanisms for learning.
I would further say that their focus on bigger issues is in large part the long term focus on people development. The leaders coach & develop their people to do these 3 things; See, Solve, Share. Their guidance is on HOW to achieve the objective, not jut the results but on ensuring a methodological process to get to the results. A methodological process which is inherently flexible & quick to respond to inputs from the shop floor, the government, the marketplace or wherever they come from.
Nokia was faster than Motorola to respond to the shift to digital. But not fast enough to respond to touch screen and other improvements in phone technology. Who are you faster than? Who’s faster than you? In business, it’s not just how fast you can make your products, but how fast you can adapt your organisation! Lean will give you both if you let it.