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Lean Physician Heal Thyself

I was struck by an excellent blog post on The Lean Post by Richard Sheridan, founder of Menlo Innovations, a software company using lean principles for software development. Richard makes an eloquent case that the software community has much to learn from the lean manufacturing industry. Health_pictogram

That made me think about lean transformation itself and the community of people involved — external consultants, internal operational excellence teams, continuous improvement groups, and so on – all working towards implementing lean principles in order to improve.

How can lean improvement teams apply more “lean” to our own processes?

W. Edwards Deming said “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”  That quote applies equally to our task of lean transformation as it does to how we would reduce the waste in our target operations.

We should be asking ourselves and our teams these questions:

  • Do you see lean transformation as a repeatable process?
  • Are there standard steps that transform our raw material (the current state) into our end product (a lean future state)?
  • Is that process predictable and repeatable?
  • Is that process robust and reliable?
  • Is that process robust enough for the complexities of our business?
  • Are there clear metrics?
  • Is there waste in that process that can be removed?

Let me get specific.  No lean practitioner would recommend manual cards to maintain stock balances like we did before computers.  Yet we are comfortable with using sticky notes on a wall for value stream mapping.  And we’ll do that for a couple of products even when we know that there are dozens to hundreds to thousands of products whose map would not look anything like the few we picked.  Why do we stick with manual methods?  Is it because we don’t know any other way to do it?  Or is it because we are comfortable with what we know and don’t want to change?  Isn’t that the prime obstacle we all face in our target operations?

How much waste is there in your lean transformation process?

  • Determining runners, repeaters, and strangers – Usually this is done with massive Excel manipulation.  But how often does your product mix change?  How often are you taking a fresh look to recategorize?  With lean transformation software, this takes a few minutes.
  • Recalculating kanban sizes – Most companies resize kanbans about every 6 months.  Some quarterly.  Is that because the business volume and mix haven’t changed? Or is it because the Kanban resizing process is overly manual and requires more Excel work and then changing cards and kanban boards on the floor?  Again, with lean transformation software, this can be done in a few minutes.
  • Calculating takt time – Many companies set a pace for production to match demand and construct production lines or cells to that pace.  And then they lock in that pace regardless of changing business volume.  With lean transformation software, this can be done on a what-if basis to see the impact immediately of mix and volume changes throughout your operations including all the upstream impacts to feeder areas.

Areteium is lean planning software specifically designed to reduce the waste in the process of lean transformation itself.  Lean physician, heal thyself!

Take a test drive of Aretium and see for yourself!


Phil Coy, Director Strategic Services, mcaConnect

Written by Phil Coy

Director, Strategic Services

Phil leads mcaConnect’s Manufacturing Excellence practice. With a passion for putting lean manufacturing principles into real-life ERP implementations for bottom line results, Phil regularly brings the credibility of his 35 years of in-the-trenches experience to conference stages.