Finding balance when consistency of purpose is not quite enough


Industry Manufacturing consistency of purpose COVID Lean manufacturing

What customers willingly pay for will change, so think process.

Consistency of purpose is about long-term thinking of the organization as a system. Let us observe the actions pertaining to COVID-19 – the voice is the same and very consistent. Do whatever you can to prevent the spread of the virus and protect yourself by washing your hands frequently, minimum duration of 20 seconds, and keep a safe distance (two metres) from others. But consistency of purpose is not always enough.

A couple of examples from the retail sector illustrate the same purpose, but as a result of execution, a different effect.

At a bakery, the entire store layout is changed. Self-serve capabilities are replaced with controlled distribution. The bakery racks are covered with plastic and the staff gowned and wearing hairnets. Serving tables are more than three metres away from the bakery racks. Approaching the serving table – distance spaced with tape on the floor to support social distancing – a friendly staff member wearing gloves takes the order and accepts only debit of credit card payments. Order complete, the gloves are discarded and new ones put on for the next customer.

At a local grocery store, the consistency of purpose is the same but the strategy is different. A staff member sprays hands front and back, and sanitizes the cart handle.


At the cash, taped off to maintain a safe distance between patrons, a cashier wearing latex gloves sanitizes the belt and runs the items over the bar code reader.

Unsanitized cash and change in the till is passed back and forth, with no change of gloves, so the entire effort is at least flawed, therefore somewhat ineffective.

Lesson learned: a flawed process interferes with the consistency of purpose.

Changed workplace

Post COVID-19, expect a changed definition of value (what the customer will pay for). Manufacturers will have to find balance. And the workplace will change. People will continue to maintain a social distance as part of our new muscle memory.

Lean practitioners can help with this transition to a new normal.

Capture voice of the customer by creating “critical to” trees for delivery, quality, safety and cost. Currently cost has not been a significant driver due to the primary purpose, but it’s going to creep back into the picture with a vengeance, so start thinking about it seriously.

Develop a cause and effect matrix (priority process inputs) and assign a risk prevention number (risks from highest to lowest). Then observe your current process and plan your future state with value stream mapping.

Finally, document your new process to insure there is both standardization and consistency in play.

People are going to change and strangers will be introduced, so don’t rely on tribal knowledge or a communication chain (whisper circle).

Visual work instruction is a powerful tool that creates alignment and tests process against the cause and effect matrix. Remember, once a visual work instruction has been created, it’s not gospel, but rather the current best practice.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Kunst Solutions Corp., which helps companies become more agile, develop evolutionary management and implement lean solutions. Visit E-mail

This article originally appeared in PLANT Magazine’s May-June 2020 print issue.



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