Doing Lean

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of Lean ever since I read the book ‘The Machine that Changed the World’.  Its description of the Toyota Production System and the dramatic effect that this had had upon automotive production was, and still is incredible.  This must be at least fifteen years now and ever since I have been trying to apply these principles to wherever I have worked. 

But I have never worked in a manufacturing environment.  I started in logistics and now I work in a local authority ICT service.  I’ve watched many people try and apply ‘Lean’ to these environments without much success and I must count myself amongst them.

I am always sceptical about firms of consultants who promise they can do ‘Lean’ to you or organisations that tell me they have ‘Leaned’ a process as, for me there is no such thing.  The Toyota Production System (TPS) was based upon a whole system view – from component suppliers through to consumer – and had to be part of the belief system and culture of the organisation.

And I guess that is where my problem lies.  I have never worked in an organisation that wholeheartedly believed in such an approach and that was driven from the senior leadership team.  There have always been pockets of willing and interested colleagues but never that overall drive and determination to give it a go and more importantly, see it through.

So it was with great interest that I went to visit Keith Appleby of the Tees, Esk and Wear Valley National Health Service.  His job is Kaisan Promotion Officer, which sounded promising to start with, and he has been coordinating the transformation of the trust based upon the TPS approach.  I say coordinate rather than lead as the process belongs to the whole organisation and is led by the senior managers.

They have been following a process based upon the work of the Virginia Mason Production System , an ambitious, system-wide programme to change the way health care is delivered and in the process improve patient safety and quality.  He told me of the five year programme that they have been on and how 68 of the staff are trained to deliver change projects.

It was like breath of fresh air finally to find an organisation in the public sector that is embracing change in such a way.  He’s given me a load of books to read and hopefully this will be the breakthrough that I have been looking for.  The fact that they are very local will help as well.

I’m already looking forward to next year.

2 thoughts on “Doing Lean

  1. I am glad to hear you are interested in looking into what the manufacturing and production industries have been doing for years. I spent a number of years working in the soft drinks industry and when the company started to embrace the “5s” and “just-in-time” principals, it really began to be efficient.

    The biggest problem it had was there were too many square pegs in round holes who did not want to change the way they worked.

    I really hope you are inspired enough to change things.

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