The commonsense understanding of lean is as a set of principles and practices that arise from Toyota’s way of producing automobiles. This is a naïve view.
Too often, people focus on the lean tools rather than the real object of Toyota’s strategy…the ongoing development of people. Toyota’s “pillars” are respect for people and continuous improvement. You can think of these pillars as guiding principles.
Their strategy is to develop a workforce that is always out in front of every competitor. Therefore, lean is about learning.
As Steven Covey famously said, “Start with the end in mind.” We work with companies to develop a lean strategy by starting with learning. Learning can take many forms. We prefer to engage people in self-directed learning where we add some guidance while adding to their skills of learning. We use a Study-Action Team™ to work with the people who are responsible for developing the strategy. Developing lean leaders needs to happen at all levels of the organization. Certainly, executives and operating group managers need to provide lean leadership. As important in project-based companies is that the people who are directing and influencing partner firms on a day-to-day basis need to provide lean leadership. In all cases, lean leadership is an acquired skill. The skill is developed while in action.
Lean transformation happens slowly, over many years and differently for every organization. We work with those leading that transformation so they patiently, persistently and with curiosity stay with the practices that will yield results.