“Is a Lean transformation a good fit for the business I lead?” As a coach, this is a question I hear often. We’ve all heard that “Lean is great for “that” company, but not for the business I lead.” Or perhaps, Lean is good for operations but not for other company functions. Are there differences between leading within manufacturing vs. transactional office services vs. decision making? Let’s explore…
Manufacturing: The disciplines have been deeply developed with an extensive history of deep thinking, tools, and methods. The work is often visual, the inventory tangible, the suppliers (should be) controllable, the product customer a visible purchaser. There seems to be little argument that there are opportunities for Lean.
Transactional Office Services: This field works somewhat like manufacturing, although of course doesn’t involve a factory. The transactions (inventory) are often processed in some type of flow whether from person to person or “one and done”. In many cases the transactions are less visible and appear as tasks or queues in a computer system. Often times the supplier is also the customer which creates an argument about what is controllable. It can be argued that a lean process without waste is the best way to control the supplier / customer. Does any customer like to continually be “touched” for more information or to repeat or correct transactional data? Although there are different problems in these fields, sure, the same principles, tools, and methods can often be applied (with modification).
Decision Making: Risk decisions, research work, computer coding, market strategy, etc. The work / inventory / decisions in these fields become less tangible and visible. Some of the work is visible as tasks or queues in a computer system, but much of the work is in someone’s head! The customer may be one person, but is often several people. The work may seem to be the least applicable for lean thinking, methods, and tools, but it could be argued that at their core, in these fields we are “manufacturing” decisions. There are inputs, there’s a process for processing those inputs, and there’s output, right? How do we make the work more visible? How do we track processes? What do consumers of decisions really value? All good lean questions to ask and solve through the same principles of Lean leadership.
I’ve been fortunate to see the positive impacts of Lean transformation in differing industries, processes and types of work. If the benefits of such a transformation are higher customer satisfaction, market leadership, and fulfilled employees at all levels, there is certainly a case for action, no matter what your field. Perhaps we should get on with it then, step up to the mantle of leadership, and make our choices of how to begin leading in a more lean way. What do you think?
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