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Upon meeting people for the first time and answering the common question about what I do for a living: “I help companies improve – we use Lean tools and techniques to streamline processes, improve quality, and help reduce costs so companies can grow.” Oftentimes people are interested and want to hear more. However, I am sometimes met with a grimace and a challenge to the effect of: “I’ve worked at a place that tried to do that, it doesn’t work.”

Whenever this happens, I get such a sad lump in my heart because it means someone didn’t understand the tools and tried to use them inappropriately. This can often come at a deep cost for employees and management, including lots of frustration and eventual downfall of the program.

I hear upsetting stories of upper management cutting down on resources and using parts and pieces of the program to attack specific aspects of the business. They do quick improvements and then take away the gains, leaving the employees with an even more stressed environment.

They provide minimal training and leave people confused and feeling like they are being taken advantage of. The cuts and frustration continue until the workload is simply unbearable and morale suffers deeply.

But the true point of Lean is not the “cuts.” If you continue to “cut,” you will have nothing left. Lean is about doing everything better in order to grow. One of my favorite Lean analogies is that a Lean business does not operate like a skeleton, trimming and getting down to the bare bones. A Lean business is one that invests in improving and does it in a healthy way, like an athlete. They only put the good stuff in and focus all their energy on making every part labor towards the goal, working until they are so primed for success that they cannot fail.

A prominent quote to this effect is “Many people think that Lean is about cutting heads, reducing the workforce or cutting inventory. Lean is really a growth strategy. It is about gaining market share and being prepared to enter in or create new markets.” – Ernie Smith, Lean Event Facilitator in the Lean Enterprise Forum at the University of Tennessee.

Improved functioning is a product of Lean activity – lowering costs, streamlining processes, and requiring less inventory or other resources. But Lean is about so much more than that and if the other parts are not incorporated into the whole strategy, it is likely to fail.

So please, have patience, take the time to fully understand what it is before implementing it, and make sure to have consistent “self-check” moments to make sure you are still on the right track. If you find that your Lean activity is increasing frustration and stress over time, something is definitely wrong. Instead, it should be bringing a lot of positives!

If you have stories to share or further questions, we would love to hear from you. Additionally, if you are sensing some issues in your improvement program, please contact us! We would love to help. We conduct assessments, give recommendations, and work with clients to get their initiatives back on track.

We are always trying to improve too; constructive feedback is always welcome. Please comment or email so I can respond back to any questions you may have. Feel free to email me any time at molly.thorvilson@collaborativeconsultants.com.

Thank you for reading!

Molly

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