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Lean management for all areas, not only production

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Case Study on Lean

Lean Production

The fundamentals of lean management

Lean production: A waste – from a customer's perspective – avoid!

By consistently aligning production with the needs of our customers, we aim to achieve the following goals:
  • high-quality products
  • with the highest delivery reliability
  • at minimum processing times
  • at appropriate costs
The quality of your employees' work is of central importance. Because only good employees produce good products. Toyota, at least, is convinced by this: "Most motorists build good cars. We 'build' good people and they build good cars." Toyota is the benchmark for Lean Production with its Toyota Production System, or TPS for short. The core elements of TPS are:
  • the synchronization and standardization of processes,
  • the avoidance of mistakes,
  • the improvement of production facilities and
  • a systematic qualification of the employees.
Behind this lies the goal of continuous improvement (Japanese: Kaizen). This is also expressed in Toyota's corporate philosophy: We want to survive as a company in the long term by improving and developing how we produce good products for our customers.

Die wesentlichen Elemente des Lean Managements

Illustration zu den Säulen des Lean Managements

Die Säulen des Lean Managements

More than Tools and Methods

What constitutes Lean Management

The Lean philosophy aims to bring problems to the surface and make them visible - instead of hiding them. But where problems are identified and analyzed, mistakes are also named, and who wants to admit they make mistakes? What companies "reward" their employees for making mistakes or uncovering problems? Only a few! But the very core of Lean Management is to create a (corporate) culture that does not condemn mistakes, but sees them as an opportunity to develop and improve - just as the identification of problems can be an opportunity. 

From our point of view as management consultants, practical experience shows that avoiding waste and increasing added value along the supply chain can be well managed with familiar lean methods and tools. It becomes difficult when the company defines an ambitious goal: striving for continuous improvement should become an integral part of everyday work. Then there is often resistance from employees.
Lean management requires a new attitude!

The American Mike Rother describes the relationship between Lean tools and methods and Lean Management with the iceberg analogy. Lean tools and methods represent the visible part of the iceberg and Lean Management the larger, invisible part of the iceberg that lies below the water's surface. Many companies ignore the invisible part of the iceberg when implementing a Lean program. Or they move working on it to day X when "real lean themes" are addressed. They seem to forget that lean management, above all, requires the willingness to fundamentally rethink and, if necessary, change behaviors. It therefore requires a culture change within the company.

The often quoted "less is more" in connection with Lean can also be interpreted as follows: It is less about tools than it is about the right attitude. A wrench alone is not enough; it is at least as important as the head that wants to turn it and the hand that turns it. Accordingly, the focus for Lean is on people and employees. They must be persuaded to review and, if necessary, revise their attitudes and habits. However, anyone who as a right-hander once tried to brush their teeth "with the left hand" can see just how difficult the smallest deviations from your usual habits can be. How much patience and perseverance does it take to make fundamental behavioral changes according to the Lean approach?

Lean as a philosophy with lean production as a vehicle for implementation will only bring lasting success if management and the workforce succeed in tackling the tough issue of "mindset and behavior" and solidify new, flexible, adapted behaviors in the company. And as change consultants, we are experts in this area.

In summary, it can be said that
  • Lean management only works if there is a corporate spirit that allows mistakes to be made and makes problems visible
  • permanent success can only be achieved by changing the attitude and behavior of employees, and
  • implementing Lean is "the road to success", and it is not just a project that is completed on day X. 

Lean management can be an important pillar in the company to allow for flexible adaptation that is quick and effective to address the constantly changing market requirements. Employees, as well as the company, learn to question what seems to be self-evident and irreversible and learn from mistakes. And, as time goes by, they can develop a routine of constant improvement.

Lean Development

Consistent, lean development

The application of lean thinking has been effective and successful in the past. Lean Development is based on the investigation and identification of processes, tools and structures of the "unnecessary" (Japan. MUDA) and combating it by taking the appropriate countermeasures.
The same principles that lead to efficient production are also applicable to the production of goods and services in product development, resulting in efficient ("making things right") and effective ("doing the right things") work steps.

This creates Lean Development, which offers opportunities for sustainable competitive advantages due to its enormous reach and leverage. Studies show that 20-30% of the resource capacity in the development process is tied up by "unnecessary things". This should be eliminated as much as possible and resources instead invested in value-enhancing activities, so that e.g. the time to market is shortened, more projects are possible across the same team, reliable production start-ups are executed and better product quality is ensured.

The five guiding principles of the Lean concept that are applicable here:
  • Value: Specification of the value of a product
  • Value stream: Recognition of the value stream
  • Flow: Creation of a value stream without interruptions
  • Pull: Determination of the frequency of processing by the customer
  • Perfection: Continuous improvement

Lean Development is gaining more and more attention in companies all over the world, whereas it is approached in different ways: from extensive, methodical system descriptions, to toolboxes, and finally, selective, task-fixed practical solutions. As expected, the concept will be further developed in rapid steps, as it continues to be driven by practical experience.


Lean Administration

Production success factors translate into administration

A company must be able to keep its competitors at a distance with innovation and technology and, at the same time, secure financing for these innovations from operative businesses. Against this backdrop, administrative efficiency, including development and design, must be increased and overhead must be kept low.

Lean Administration offers these opportunities and it is indispensable in today's industrial environment. It enables a company to react more quickly, more efficiently and more flexibly to a constantly changing market and customer requirements. It is a leadership principle, a holistic approach that questions the existing structures, follows the fundamental logic of industrial operations and optimizes business processes.

Above all, however, it is about the employees who are empowered to generate results rather than just keeping busy.

Lean Administration is only effective when the employees' own initiatives drive the processes forward. On the other hand, according to our experience from various change projects, employees have a fear of allowing changes, becoming replaceable or giving up their familiar working methods. Therefore, a systematic approach is of great importance. This cannot to be seen as a one-time project, but must be sought out as a fundamental change of mindset and management philosophy.

When we, as change consultants, accompany the development of lean administration, we follow a systematic principle. In order to streamline processes, the complexity of the processes is eliminated (effectiveness) and then optimized (efficiency). The aim is to precisely assess the initial situation and identify any potential for optimization.

In order to define the target status, the orientation of future processes begins with the definition of said target status. This includes the strategic and operative level, where it is necessary to align processes with the corporate vision and specific goals must be pursued with regard to process or product.

Additionally, the structural prerequisites are created before the processes can be optimized. These relate to product structure, product range, organizational structure and necessary investments. The primary goal is to eliminate the complexity of processes in advance by "cleaning up" the organizational environment and reducing the number of cost drivers as much as possible.

When we are consulted

Our consulting services around the topic of lean

  • You have begun to implement Lean Management tools and realize that you should be working much harder on the Lean Management philosophy?
  • Do you want to establish an attitude of "problem solving" among your employees?
  • Do you want to develop and bring to life your "Lean Management Kata"?

We have a team of Lean Consultants that specializes in assessing the cultural changes associated with Lean Management. Due to our change competence, we are able to "work" together with you in changing the mindset of your employees.

We train your employees in problem-solving skills until it becomes "second nature". Our consultants understand how cultural change processes are shaped and will accompany you on the way to implementing "real" Lean Management.

Lean Boards

Creating transparency

Kanban Boards create transparency about how the work is organized. The work process and activities are presented in a way that allows the teams to accurately identify problems and bottlenecks. Only when this happens can solutions and decisions that ensure a continuous improvement of the working process be reached.

You can orient yourself on the classic Kanban Board, as you can find it by the hundreds on the internet, but you can also develop your own dialogue board with the content that is important to your team.
This is far from trivial and deserves a little bit of attention. Below you will find a download of the corresponding method maps.

Dialog-Board Lean Administration: Welches Ziel wollen Sie erreichen?

Illustration zu möglichen Schwerpunkten eines Dialog-Board

Be strict with the process, but gentle with the employees.

Philosophy of Toyota Motors

The Improvement- Kata

The improvement kata aims to gradually develop a learning routine for employees (and their managers) in order to approach a defined target state. The route to the goal is not predetermined. Rather, it is discovered step-by-step within the framework of an experimental procedure. Important prerequisites for this are precise descriptions of the current, as well as the target status.

An improvement kata target state is made up of by the following characteristics:
  • The desired state is challenging.
  • It is attainable and the solution is still unknown.
  • It must be found and gradually developed in a regular examination of one's own actions and the given framework conditions.

What seems very pragmatic at first glance is not easy to implement. Striving for a (learning) routine in striving for improvement requires employees to deal with their (non-existent) knowledge and their existing incompetencies consciously and without hesitation. You have to ask yourself: What stands in the way of an improvement? Our fear of change for example? Or our tendency to instinctively say "I can't do that" when faced with new challenges, instead of asking ourselves: How and under what conditions can we solve the problem?

Developing such a mindset is not easy for people. Nevertheless, when attempting to solve unknown problems and create something new, there is no way around the fact that one's own knowledge border, which forms a kind of wall around our present knowledge, is gradually being extended. This means that employees have to leave the comfort zone of their current knowledge in a targeted manner. This may not be easy for them, if they have not yet developed a routine doing so, because our brain consists of two "thinking systems":
  • a fast, subconscious system that quickly recognizes stored knowledge on the basis of patterns and allows us to act intuitively; and
  • a slower system that operates systematically and "creates" new knowledge and results through targeted analysis and re-linking.                                                                                          
The improvement kata is all about linking these two thought-systems. And that's where your employees need support: in the form of kata coaching.


The Lean Coaching-Kata

Illustration zu möglichen Schwerpunkten eines Dialog-Board
It is the task of leadership executives is supporting their employees in taking the rocky path of lack of knowledge to competence - from the current status quo to the desired target status. Or to put it a different way: They should make it easier for their employees to apply the improvement kata with the help of a coaching kata. In other words, by means of targeted coaching they work towards ensuring that the application of the improvement kata becomes a habit, i. e. routine and matter of course for their employees. This, in turn, will lead to a reduction in the workload of leadership executives in the medium term.

A coaching kata is based on the following five questions:
  • What is the target state?
  • What is the current state?
  • What are the current obstacles to reaching the target status?
  • What are the next steps and what conclusions are likely to be drawn from them?
  • When can we see what we have learned from taking that next step? 

The coaching kata does not specify a concrete solution. Rather, the employees are supported in finding their own solutions by means of an experimental procedure. A central prerequisite for the success of kata coaching is trust, mutual respect between coach and coachee or manager and employee. Because it requires courage from the coachee or employee to continuously deal with the limits of his or her personal knowledge and to look into the "abyss of the unknown". But there is no getting around it, if the overarching goal is: I or we want to continuously improve and constantly develop better solutions for our external as well as internal customers.

We accompany you on this not always easy, but rewarding, path with our extensive experience from numerous change projects.