Think Lean: Master the art of sustaining lean performance

July 6, 2010   by Richard Kunst

You implemented lean, the results were spectacular and the metrics indicated success, but six months later the enthusiasm has subsided, performance is falling back to old levels and the program is no longer considered a prime initiative.

What happened? Shallow lean, which comes from quick results without the sustaining glue. Typical causes include:

• Implementing business and manufacturing improvements using lean techniques without understanding the dynamics of your markets, customers and business culture.

• Jumping into disconnected lean projects using a few key people but without senior leadership or an overall road map.


• Executing without creating customer value propositions, business infrastructure, lean maturity planning, or changing your cultural values to sustain performance.

• Deploying short-term results at the expense of long-term cultural transformation.

So what’s that sustaining glue? Systemic lean builds a receptive culture with values and an infrastructure that senior management deems to be a leadership priority. It’s about making a personal commitment and having the vision to transform business culture by adopting lean performance characteristics.

This is an everyone-in process. Shortcuts are not allowed. New performance goals must be defined and communicated to everyone with results relating to waste reduction, customer value and cycle-time reduction. Practice enterprise lean to make business and manufacturing processes from order processing to shipping free of inefficiencies, waste, and unnecessary time while providing customers with the highest possible value. Waste can comprise more than 30% of an operating budget. Elements of waste include: excessive administration, customer myopia, overproduction, use of resources to cover up problems, extra inventory, transportation and excessive use of indirect staff.

Study your customers’ current and future requirements to ensure your business processes, products and services, with their associated value, meet your customers’ changing requirements. What you offer today may not meet solutions in the future. Know and change your capabilities to gain and sustain customer loyalty. The transformation to customer value is a prerequisite for sustaining lean performance.

Senior management must lead the charge with a strong vision, long-range implementation plans, and unwavering commitment. Sustaining vision is amplified and transformed into operational values. Applied lean values support customer values and, if successfully practised, cause positive change within the business culture.

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