Lean Transformation – Turning a Strategic Plan into Action

Submitted by Mike Boucher 

Many organizations have had some exposure to Lean Training. A small number of these organizations have actually attempted to apply the various Lean tools. Unfortunately, they often report that their experience and more importantly, their results, have not met their expectations. These organizations are left wondering if Lean works in their business sector.

So, what went wrong?
The best way to answer that is to consider what Lean is. It is much more than a collection of tools or standalone initiatives.

  1. Lean, first and foremost, is a client centred philosophy that focuses on exceeding the service expectations while achieving the highest quality and efficiency. This commitment has to be reflected in the organizational Strategic Plan. Many organizations profess to do this and many actually go through that seemingly painful exercise of developing a plan. Turning the plan into action is where the disconnect occurs. Unfortunately these good intentions often get over-shadowed by the day-to-day issues that arise.
  2. Lean is about developing the right processes and reorganizing how we do the work to support the efforts of everyone in the organization. If today, you are falling short in achieving the results that your client wants then it is time to challenge the status quo. Doing the same old thing will inevitably give you the same results.
  3. Lean is about enabling your staff within their respective areas of expertise to actively participate and contribute to improvements that will better meet the needs of clients both internal and external. These activities are not haphazard but focused on supporting our Key Performance Indicators.

The above should provide a foundation for Lean but without proper application and direction, it is likely to fail. Lean success is not based on doing Lean things but rather on applying Lean to support the direction of the organization. It is critically important for senior executives to synthesize their strategic plan in terms of identifying the few critical Value Streams; the end-to-end processes that will best deliver the desired outcomes. This focused approach serves to “operationalize” the plan and creates alignment, top down and across the organization. As a result, executive sponsorship for Lean is achieved over the long term because Lean is directly supporting the goals and objectives that are important to the leaders.

Applying the Value Stream Methodology is an excellent management tool to provide a system level of thinking to ensure significant and sustainable improvement. Value Stream Mapping is essentially a three step process to drive change:

  1. Create a Current State Map. This is a visual representation of your selected end to end process that captures both the flow of work as well as the information from initial client request through to delivery.
  2. Future State Map. This step creates a relatively short term vision based on applying Lean thinking and analysis to better meet the needs of your internal / external client. The Future State Map creates the blueprint for change.
  3. Kaizen Implementation. Kaizen provides the opportunity for teams to specifically address the problem points preventing us from achieving the Future State. Teams problem solve and implement solutions that will have an impact on the end to end value stream and ultimately the client.

Throughout the Value Stream cycle, a reporting or feedback loop is embedded into the process to ensure alignment to the strategic plan allowing for the necessary course adjustment along the way. This feedback loop is also important to allow the senior leaders to remove roadblocks for Value Stream teams.

The Lean Transformation model provides the best opportunity for organizations committed to Lean. Organizations will continue to be pressured to create efficiencies to achieve more. Let Lean support your effort. Introduce the structure, alignment and support necessary to break the cycle of false starts.