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Monday, March 23, 2015

The Lean Journey is a Climb not a Stroll

Lean Thinking is often described as a “journey, not a destination”. In many regards this is true since the best Lean companies have found that their improvement efforts never end. Each set of improvements result in improved bottom-line results but also exposes more opportunity.

This journey toward dramatically improved business performance shares three characteristics with more traditional travel. Every journey has a starting point, an objective, and a path that connects the two. In order to gain the maximum return on limited resources organizations must understand and optimize these three essential characteristics.

Lean is more than a specific tool, management technique or software package. Above all, lean is a strategy, a commitment to organizing and managing the process in ways that reduce waste and assess value from the customer’s eyes. Lean is not a set of tools. Lean is a cultural change to the way a company does business. Because it's a culture change it becomes more of a journey than a destination.

We have seen countless companies whose goal to be #1 leads to terrible demise once finally achieved. It is not necessarily that this is a bad goal but it is not customer focused. So once achieved they naturally decline. I believe if you are not improving then you are declining.

For me the Lean journey is not a stroll down a winding road but rather a climb up a perpetual hill. Reaching the top of the hill is the pinnacle of the journey. So you are either improving (climbing the hill) or you are falling back. The key to keep you moving forward up the hill is to stay customer focused (not competitor focused as that is looking behind you.) Your acceleration up the hill is controlled by the rate of new learning (this changes the speed of improvement). The smarter you work the closer you get to reaching the top.

Lean doesn’t end after you reach your first set of goals, and it’s not a finite project with a beginning and end date. Rather it’s a way of business life that everyone needs to pursue continuously. Sustaining the Lean effort and overcoming inertia requires institutionalizing your process (how you’re going to climb the hill). The real benefits of Lean come from a sustained effort over years, not weeks or months.

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