Some companies have been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic much better than others, at least for now. Over the past few weeks, I have seen and shared through my Twitter and Facebook accounts examples of how lean companies have handled the crisis. The common denominator for all of them is they keep the focus on the same things, people, and customers. They also use different continuous improvement tools to learn and adapt to the new normal in record times. How did they do that? Using lean thinking and not taking their eyes from the basic principles.
The term “lean thinking” was coined by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, it is used to describe the process of making business decisions based on the Lean Principles. Womack and Jones book, Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation presented and talked in detail about those principles.
- Customer Value
- Identify all the steps in the value stream and eliminate waste.
- Make the value-add steps flow.
- Let customers pull value from the next upstream activity.
- Continuous Improvement
Since the first principle is to define value from the customer point of view, it is logical to start the crisis response looking at how value changed for internal and external customers. As a leader, you are responsible for your employee’s health and well-being while they are working. To provide a safer possible workplace, revise the value stream to identify how it needs to change, how the flow will be affected and corrected, and finally implement the changes. While doing this, keep the communication with your employees and customers to make sure that you are adapting to their new needs and priorities.
Improving the process is an activity that never stops. Every day new information comes out that makes it necessary to change something on the process. Lean companies can face this challenge easier than others because they developed people to become problem-solvers. They focus on the problem cause and possible solutions using PDCA, 5 Why, and other tools. It is better to have an army of problem-solvers than just a few people, or worst, just you.
The heart of the lean system is people involvement, a highly motivated team continuously seeking the best way. To keep the heart healthy, you need to maintain a respectful, free of blame, and honest work environment where the team feels they are being cared for, and their feelings and ideas matter.
I don’t know if lean or continuous improvement is the antidote against the economic crisis, we are living in. Based on my experience, I know that it is better than traditional management, and it works for any industry, of any size. Industries with a small profit margin, like restaurants, will benefit from this type of thinking more than anyone. Changing the decision-making process and how you conduct business is a better route to become profitable and flexible.
If you keep doing what you always did, you will get what you always got. Henry Ford