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Lean 101

Lean in a team — spread the word (but not too fast)

A lean transformation is a team effort. As the goal is to maximize customer value, going lean involves everyone in your company from marketing and sales to the shop floor.

Nikolaus Correll
July 22, 2021

Lean in a team — spread the word (but not too fast)

A trivial, but not so simple, task like unloading a dishwasher is a typical example of a manufacturing task as it exists sometimes hundreds of times in manufacturing plant. The best person to improve day-to-day operation is — you are guessing it — the worker and its team.

As with the dishwasher example, no station in a manufacturing environment exist in isolation. Unloading the dishwasher is preceded by the loading task and followed by setting the table, which might be performed by other people such as your family. Here, a certain way that makes loading the dishwasher very easy, might be detrimental for unloading it. Similarly, a storage location that has been optimal for unloading the dishwasher might make setting the table harder.

In order to avoid frustration, your co-workers need therefore to be integrated into the optimization process. Sometimes, they will not be able to adjust how they do things for other reasons, requiring everyone to find a solution together. For example, the dishwasher problem might be optimally solved using a mobile storage container, which can be used across all tasks from cleaning the table, to loading and unloading the dishwasher.

There are two main insights we are getting from this:

1.In order to be successful in implementing lean, all employees need to understand basic lean principles, how ways they do things affect others down the line, and what the overall goal is. This is also where marketing and sales come in — ultimately, the goal is always tied to customer value. Becoming lean cannot be done over night, but is optimally done in small, incremental steps. As interdependences in a complex sequence of processes are impossible to predict, doing too many steps at once can do more damage than good.2.There are multiple steps you can take. In addition to inviting your co-workers to read this book or take the online course, there exist also a large variety of “lean games” that can be played in a team, such as brainstorming about the dishwasher example (everyone has one) or folding paper airplanes, see also Chapter 7 and comparing different approaches to organizing your line.

Exercise 1 Team exercise
Invite members of manufacturing, marketing and sales and brainstorm. Expose them to the dishwasher case study. While letting them discuss potential improvements, make sure you arrive at an extrema such as living entirely out of the dishwasher and running it after every meal — a policy that essentially removes the unloading task. Highlight that the customer value ”save time” is at odds with ”protect the environment” and ”save energy”. End with a discussion on what your team believes to constitute ”customer value” in your company.

Doing things together and thinking about how a decision influences others is tightly related to move in small steps. The Japanese use the word “kata” for this, which is originally used to describe small basic steps in Karate. The “kata” approach has been synthesized in the book “Toyota kata” by Mike Rother. In particular, Rother proposes that it is not solutions themselves that provide companies with a long term advantage, but the degree to which an organization has mastered an effective routine for developing fitting solutions again and again, along unpredictable paths. This requires teaching the skills behind finding a solution throughout your organization, rather than forcing one-time solutions.


1.What can you do to get your colleagues to help you optimizing the process you are working on?

  1. Lead by example, improve your process, and share how you got there
  2. Invite them to read this book or take the ”Seven deadly wastes” online course
  3. Try to understand why they do things a certain way
  4. All of the above

2.Why should lean improvements always be done in baby steps?

  1. Because your colleagues are not smart enough
  2. Because your colleagues do not know lean yet
  3. Because even a small change might lead to problems further up or down the line
  4. Because people don’t like change

3.If you find a way to make work at your station faster, overall efficiency can only increase.

  1. True. Removing potential negative side effects is the next step in the continuous improvement process.
  2. False. It might turn out that keeping things as is will lead to the overall best outcome, but sometimes one can only find out by trial and error.

Solutions: 1-4, 2-3, 3-2

Nikolaus Correll

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