Now finally I get to go to presentation that suits me perfectly. As someone who has always been on the thin side of skinny (until more recently when the middle-aged post 40 love handles make an impression), the concept of the Lean Organisation and Lean Thikning really makes sense to me. But the talk that James Womack gave to VPSCIN on 9 March was less on being lean physically but more on being lean organisationally.
I really liked his presentation. It was simple common sense. His self-effacing manner was evident – “I am not smart enough to be an inventor, what my gift is to make things simple”. And simple is what he made it. He asks simple but profound questions:
Why don’t you try it and see what happens?
What is your improvement process?
Who is responsible for a particular business process? He has three key principles for Lean Thinking:
- Purpose. Which problems are trying to be solved – and in today’s world, many customers want a complete problem to be solved, not just bits.
- Process. Remove wasted steps, make the remaining steps flow quickly and at the pull (or expressed demand) of the customer. Try to even out the demand peaks.
- People. Who need to see the whole of the value stream and be engaged in pursuing the creation of the perfect process.
Another key point he made was the need to substitute responsibility for authority. He gave the example of Toyota (I’ve owned Toyotas as the family car for the past 13 years) that the people who are responsible for the process to achieve the purpose have no authority!
Another point was the need to document failures – to create a book of knowledge that records the results of every experiment – whether it succeeded or failed. This scientific approach of hypothesis testing was the best way to advance organisational knowledge on the subject.
I also liked his approach of making his work publicly available on the Australian Lean website (waiting for his presentation to be available as at 10 March 2007 – it’s not on the US Lean website either). Finally, he put forward the challenge of implementing this thinking into the public sector and reporting the results back to next year’s Lean conference.