Taiichi Ohno, whose founding role in the development of Toyota subsequently birthed the concept of Lean Manufacturing, identified 7 key types of waste:
1. Defects and mistakes;
2. Overproduction of goods not needed;
3. Inventories waiting the next stage in a process;
4. People waiting for something to happen or materials to be available before they can proceed;
5. Unnecessary processing, doing things which are not required;
6. Too much movement of people; and
7. Transport of goods that are not really required.
The same basic wastes of resources occur just as much in most projects as they do in manufacturing, causing expensive losses of time, money and even morale.
Obviously, the planning work you do at the outset can greatly reduce waste, but how do you manage if the systems in place are already inefficient?
Whether you call it Lean Manufacturing, Lean Construction or simply Lean Enterprise, essentially what you’re talking about is the elimination of inefficiencies and waste with a high-performance culture and a process focus. The result is improved profitability, happier clients, more engaged people and increased sustainability.
Old school vs Lean
Let’s take Lean Construction as an example and compare it to the traditional approach. Construction is notorious for the amount of time wasted as people stand around. That’s because typically, most attention goes into planning projects but very little on design or redesign of procedures. Add to this a strong hierarchical structure, where few people are involved at the top end and communications flow generally one-way from the top down, and it’s easy to see why the traditional approach results in almost every one of Ohno’s key waste areas.
Lean Construction takes a different approach. Firstly, there is a recognition that the grassroots work team have knowledge and ideas that could improve outcomes – sometimes resulting in enormous tangible benefits. Secondly, there is a methodology in place for this knowledge to find its way back to the leaders of the project or organisation. And finally, there is the compounding effect of the two… a more productive, more engaged workforce that delivers a better end result and an organisation that becomes literally ‘wiser’ with each completed project.
When Lean doesn’t work
The concepts of empowerment, communication and collaboration can send chills down the spines of many business leaders. Not because they don’t make sense… but because they seem so nebulous and difficult to manage. Afterall, moving to Lean (in any form) is about making a lasting cultural shift… Something that so many have tried and failed to do.
Perhaps it is helpful to consider what Lean is NOT, in order to understand exactly how it works. Lean is NOT warm and fuzzy. It’s not about ‘team building’ and high fives and staff barbeques. It’s not about cutting back to save money or increase profitability. These can (and often are) outcomes in a Lean organisation, but they’re not the basis. Often, failure to benefit from the Lean approach comes from targeting these outcomes directly and not the fundamental shifts that enable them to occur.
Lean = business intelligence = improved performance
The Lean approach is extremely formulaic and scientific. High-quality implementation involves careful examination and questioning of everything from a strategic level to a detail level, from design to implementation. The goal is to create predictability and reliability at every stage. The outcome of that is a greatly increased likelihood to meet all your objectives including client satisfaction, timeframes and budget.
By harnessing collective intelligence every step of the way, everyone who participates begins to think differently about the work they’re doing together. Claude Levi-Strauss captures the essence of this change in thinking; “The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as ask the right questions.” People working in Lean organisations have an increased desire to learn about how to solve problems (and from actually solving problems), which leads to a desire to understand the root causes of problems, which results in a sense of urgency to address root causes of problems. Ultimately, this creates a culture that strives for continuous improvement.
Lean actually provides leaders with information and questions that can fast track organisational and competitive advantage. By unlocking the wisdom inside your organisation, you’re better able to anticipate future obstacles, problem solve quickly and act on new opportunities. Plus, through careful analysis and redesign of the processes in your organisation or project, your business or project can become more efficient, productive and profitable.
High-yield project & business performance solutions
Systemix works with large organisations to increase efficiency, profitability and sustainability with Lean performance concepts and many others. We guide you in identifying and capturing high-yield efficiency and performance improvement opportunities both in a project context (Lean Project Delivery) as well as in the organisational setting (Enterprise Efficiency), using an array of methodologies and techniques.
Working with business leaders to create a Lean culture at a project or organisation level, Systemix addresses the critical factors of both people and process to create significant outcome improvements.