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LEAN as a Learning Framework

LEAN is one of those things that every organisation, large, small, manufacturing or service should do, for me it's just obvious. A great many people see LEAN as a waste reduction process, there to cut costs and nothing else, and unfortunately this is the thing that tends to stick, and in some cases be promoted as the value of LEAN but it's not what it's really about.

 LEAN For Your People

There is a whole, really interesting, history to LEAN or the Toyota Production System that people don't tend to talk about. The drivers for it starting up were obviously about driving improvement in the organisation, but it was because Toyota had practically just gone bankrupt and the banks had come in to right the ship (as they do) and forced them to lay off a whole tranch of people. This didn't sit well with the founder, Mr Toyoda so he & his leadership team decided that they would never again be in debt to the banks or anyone else.. so how would they do that. Well, they needed to have the best-run and most flexible plants possible.
  • Again, they asked How will we do that? They decided that they needed to have great productivity and great quality and he was smart enough to know you can't have one without the other.
  • Again, they asked How will we do that? They decided that they needed to train their people to be the best available to do the right things that would improve productivity & quality.
  • Again, they asked How will we do that? The answer largely came from their application of Ishikawa, Deming, and Juran's work in Quality Circles which showed how much the guy on the shop floor knew and could contribute and they wanted more, so guess what they did...
  • Again, they asked How will we do that? They listened to 2 smart people, Taiichi Ohno & Shigeo Shingo who both helped developed the Toyota Production System.

What was special about the systems they developed was that it was 100% about people, not about machines or computers (since they really didn't exist at that point in history) it was about how do we coach and educate our people to have the knowledge that they need to sort the issues that they see every day that will impact either Quality or Flow.
They taught them to think about things from both a local and global or systems point of view, i.e. there is zero point optimising one part of the process if the other parts suffer as a result or the local solution adds zero value. They focused on being able to see the issue and work on it 1st hand in reality and removing things that did not add value to the end customer which eventually lead to the term Value Add that everyone now knows and the drive to minimise all non-value add items.
They didn't live in a classroom training was done at the GEMBA – the place where the value is added, the training was actually coaching. Questions were asked of the individual or the team trying to solve the problem. The questions were as much for the coach (or Sensei) to understand the thinking of the students as anything else. They prodded, ask for more details, helped with testing of the theories the team had come up with, helped analysis the outcomes and helped them with their thinking when planning the next iteration of testing. This is the PDCA loop or as it was called Try & See, it should be simple, and it should be fast.
The LEAN tool box which we talk about now is really a collection of learnings over time on what has worked before, each time it is applied it needs to be tuned to the situation rather than being a silver bullet it is the 1st step in understanding the underlaying variation from the standard condition you want and the 1st step in creating a counter measure, a way of bring the process in check and keeping it there long term.
So TPS really a learning frame work rather than a productivity frame work!

The 4F Framework 

One of the underlying LEAN framework's that doesn't get too much airtime is the 4F framework. 4F stands for Find, Face, Frame, Form. if you think about this as one of the foundation frameworks you probably wouldn't be far off the mark. Here's how it works:

  • FIND - This is all about finding the real, immediate problems right now
  • FACE - Here were are interested in understanding what our challenge is, what is easy to fix, what is not and what the deeper challenges area
  • FRAME - This is about putting the challenges you have discovered in a way that everyone will easily undertand both in terms of the problem that you are trying to solve but also the generic solution that you are looking for
  • FORM - This stage is about working together at the GEMBA (place of value) to form the specific solutions you need as a team through repeated try and see efforts until a final solution is uncovered which is usually not at all what you think it will be. Then form that into a new standard that is repeatable.

​You work through each step in order, one at a time, starting obviously with FInd  or the problem awareness steps then work through a loop which you know as PDCA until you get the soluton. 

Your LEAN Challenge 

Your real 1st LEAN challenger then is to not think about LEAN as a bunch of tools to apply to problems but as a set of learning opportunities that can be applied to  your organisation that will increase your quality, lower your defects and increase your flow. You should look at it as 100% focused on growing your people and team work where the outcomes are increased quality, lower defects and increases flow.

By framing it that way in your organisation, as people development, it will also help in the understanding that perhaps the 'costs' associated with LEAN implementations are not costs but investments in training, engagement of your people and improvement in your business culture.

Get In Touch

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You can also call John on 0211649739 to set up a meeting 


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Wednesday, 22 January 2020

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