The Lean Lighthouse
Lighthouses have got to be one of the most magical of buildings ever created, I love them. They stand against the mighty elements, the wind, the rain, the hail, the sun and everything else the environment has to throw at them. They stand firm, throwing out the vast illumination to light the way, showing where is safe and what isn't. The lighthouses are kept in perfect operating conditions by those who live there or are responsible for its upkeep, it's not a cast of thousands it's a small select few who look after that particular lighthouse. They know that if they don't keep it operating just right then others will flounder, and hope is lost for those looking for the light.
So, what the heck has a lighthouse to do with lean? It has everything to do with lean, it is lean! Let me explain.
Lighting The Way
When organisations start on their lean journey there are generally two approaches taken, go wide and try to do everyone and everything at once, this can be chaotic, terrifying and a path probably only for the wildly brave or perhaps even slightly insane, I'm not saying it won't work but it'll be an interesting and often brief journey.
Alternatively, you can pick an area and work on that, honing the process and getting the small wins, teaching the teams there and getting them to become advocates, going deeper and deeper into the lean practices and thinking here before moving on to the next area once you are confident and you have supporters. Some call these pilot areas, I prefer to think of them as Lighthouses!
One Light At A Time
When you focus deeply on one area at a time, turning on one light at a time what happens? All of your efforts get focused, you aren't pulled pillar to post to ensure that all 74 plates you are trying to spin keep spinning. You are there at one place supporting one group through the transformation, helping them challenge the norm and change the thinking. They feel supported, they feel like they can achieve almost anything because they have your complete support and focus. You can try things in a small area that you can't try out across the entire organisation, experiment as much as you like, rediscover how many ways there are to make a lightbulb (Edison after all only tried about 1001 times). Test your flow here, display your A3's, test your Kanban and WIP limits, test your 5s and visual management, implement your operator led maintenance, keep what works and dispose of the rest.
What you end up with is a beacon, a point in your organisation you can bring others to see and learn at, this can be the light that you shine to say here it is, this is what can be done. Others will see it and come to explore.
Light The Next Step
Once you have one lighthouse area, find your next spot that will help you on the journey. It may be the area either side of the first or it may be in an entirely separate area, it doesn't really matter, when you light that next light the route you are taking starts to show anyway.
Take the people from the first lighthouse area with you to help train the next, let them learn with them on how to spread the changes and improvements that they have made. Let them both learn that some of the things that succeeded in one area may not either be successful in the next or indeed not required. The important part is to share the journey, the understanding that if your experiment fails, reset understand why and go again, that is lean, that is continuous improvement, that is PDCA.
Light The Whole Journey
Taking the lean journey is a challenge, it's littered with false starts and rocks for you to crash on. Take your time, doing it right, plan thoroughly, light one step brightly by going really deeply into the lean ways and tools that are right for that area. Get the people there to be your advocates and then move to the next and the next and the next knowing that you may well have to come back to an earlier one and polish it a bit with new knowledge you acquire on the journey. Soon enough there will be enough lighthouses that the entire journey is illuminated, and the path is clear for everyone to see.
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