Become a lean guru

The ongoing trend of using lean production procedures to attain an effective and efficient supply chain has been already mentioned by expert David Kiger. Ever since the Japanese came up with philosophies like Kaizen or Kanban, the world — and the supply chain management world, more specifically — has moved towards the constant elimination of waste and extra costs. It is not rare, then, that companies keep up investing heavily in redesigning their internal procedures in hopes of getting more effective, efficient and responsive.

Nowadays, right after the contributions of experts, companies and supply chain scholars around the world, another term was developed to represent the action of always getting more proficient when it comes to dealing with both manufacturing and production procedures: the lean transformation model. The lean transformation model can be explained much easier if used together with an example of any avant-garde production system. Imagine any company whose production system has already been establishing on a solid foundation — like a house —. Now, two main pillars are laid out on the foundation, and over these two there is a roof. In order to better understand this approach, it is mandatory to be aware of the fact that any action that aims at changing something that is not working cannot be applied the same way and to the same extent to any situation whatsoever. Every company, for this matter, can change its defective procedures, however, basing a specific change on what has worked for other companies in the past may not be as good as it might initially seem — albeit companies can learn through this.

What is important to determine beforehand is the true purpose of the situation in any transformation process, and, more importantly, determine it based on a value driven approach: what problem is it that needs to be solved? The objectives can be at many levels: they can refer to the overall situation of the company or to an area in particular like the work that takes place in the front line. Imagine these questions as the roof of the house previously described. One of the pillars should be the ongoing improvement of the actual processes whereas the other is rather related to the workers and their capability development. If one failed, as in architecture, the house would collapse. Like in a system, every improvement should impact in a positive way the other components, for this matter, in particular, every improvement should aim to, not only make procedures better but also to develop the people so that they can keep making future and additional improvements all the time. In between these two pillars, imagine the management system, supported and driven by leadership behaviors, and, in the foundation, as readers might imagine, there are all the basic assumptions and thinking, the already established mindset that has served as the base for supporting the transformation process: it embodies the premises that underlie the transformation process.

Become a lean guru
Courtesy of SparkFun Electronics at Flickr.com

So, the lean transformation, after defining the previous five stages or dimensions, occurs when they are consistently dealt with. Otherwise, the transformation might end up being out of balance and fail. So, these five dimensions allows managers, supply chain managers, employees and people in general to elaborate crucial questions in hopes of narrowing the spectrum of what needs to be changed: determining the change, or identifying what needs to be changed inside the company is crucial for the other dimensions to work properly as they are somehow dependent on this first assumption. Then, once the problem has been identified, the next step is determining how can be such problem improved, what specific actions should be taken for that situation to get better: is it necessary to change the work that has been done so far? Or how can value be added to the already established procedures? And, most importantly, how can these improvements be perpetuated by workers — which is related to the second pillar of the house used as example—. How can the workers of a company develop the capabilities to keep improving every aspect related not only to their work but also to the company in general? Of course, leaving this to work by itself will result in a somewhat hectic undesired scenario. For these changes to happen, they must be enabled by leadership behaviors. Otherwise, every effort to apply an improvement — and it being perpetuated by the people — will result in a waste of time, money, and the initial momentum: is it necessary to put a new management system? And, last but not least, questioning the basic assumptions on which the whole system is based will allow the company to, if given the case, adopt new practices or, for this matter, new assumptions on which the whole transformation process can be based towards the future.

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