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Getting Started with Lean

by Joshua Rapoza & James P. Womack
July 26, 2018

Getting Started with Lean

by Joshua Rapoza & James P. Womack
July 26, 2018 | Comments (1)

Serving a lean community means getting lots of questions. Perhaps the most common question we get is "Where do I start?"

I managed to get Jim Womack in our recording studio (well, its a room that has recording equipment, so I guess that makes it a recording studio), and I asked him that question "Where do I start?"

I liked it so much we animated it!

Below is a transcript of Dr. Womack's reply.

"Where do you start? Lean is not a grand theory, but a set of standard practices, developed for your organization, based on experiments. Start somewhere, with a value-creating process—what we call a value stream; what is also called a model line—to learn what works best for you.

An A3 is the best way to create your hypothesis about how to make things better, in which you determine the current state. You identify the business problem, or the opportunity, and the root cause. You measure the performance gap. You inventory the potential countermeasures. You select the most promising countermeasure, and you conduct PDCA—plan, do, check, act. That’s science. That’s management by science.

With regard to where to start, each other wants to start with the CEO. “If my CEO would just do this, everything would be great.” That’s great, if they will. Many want to start with education, and Lean thinking, and/or benchmarking, but you’re probably not the CEO, and education, and benchmarking produce no benefit without action, which is to say without experiments.

Number one, start where you are, whether you’re the CEO, the COO, the CFO, the CIO, a business unit head, department head, facility manager, an area leader within the facility, product-line manager. Start where you are. Note that I’ve not listed the heads of the operational excellence, or continuous improvement programs.

We’ve learned that Lean transformation must be led by line managers. The job of continuous improvement, Op-Ex, is to coach line managers on how to run experiments, and to provide technical assistance, as necessary. Point two … Point one, start where you are; point two, start with experiments. They can provide more value for customers by eliminating waste, and creating success. Start with something important.

To sum up, whoever you are, and wherever you start, pick a value-creating process, not just spread all over the place, but pick a value stream. Create an A3. Run experiments. Reflect on what you’ve learned. Share your findings with the rest of your organization. We call that yokoten—the horizontal, or vertical spread of good ideas—and keep on experimenting. Lean is not a program; it is not time-limited; it has no end."

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  A3,  getting started,  PDCA
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1 Comment | Post a Comment
Steven Leuschel August 23, 2018
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Hi Dr. Womack, 

I agree with the "Start Where you Are" but I think the time has passed and enough mistakes have been made over the last few decades by selecting a value steam and creating an A3 as a starting point.

Based on lean failures, or transformations that have taken too long, this approach is not the best approach for Lean transformation.

If people weren't involved, this might be the best approach. But unfortunately organizations are made of people and processes. 

Steven Leuschel

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