Organizational Transformation and Lean Thinking: In Perfect Harmony

Change in an organization is inevitable and necessary. This shouldn’t be earth-shattering to anyone. The people, processes, space and technology must constantly evolve. When we are satisfied with being on a plateau inescapably something will disrupt our steady movement and change the course. So how does an organization anticipate what’s next, continuously improve, and bring ready and willing people along? The answer: Lean Thinking and Change Management.

Lean began in Japan in the 1930s at Toyota. After World War II they developed it more intensely to provide continuity in process flow and in the variety of their product offerings. In the 1990s a book, “The Machine that Changed the World” (Womack, Jones and Roos, 1990), introduced the world to this revolutionary problem-solving and productivity concept that changed the manufacturing business forever. Most people will stop reading here because they may say “We don’t build cars.” Stay with me.

There are five basic principles for Lean: Define Value, Map the Value Stream, Create Flow, Pull at the Customer Request, and Pursue Perfection.

When we stop to study our customer and ask them what they value from the service we are providing, we can begin our journey to improve. Lean thinking has defined three things that qualify value: If we’re doing something that changes a process or outcome, if we’re doing it right the first time, or if the customer is willing to pay for it. If one of these three is missing, then the activity is considered waste.

We need to cut out waste to allow more time for the things our customer really needs and wants. Once we understand what those things are, we can create a constant, harmonious flow until delivery. But we shouldn’t stop there, we should ask the customer after delivery what would make us better the next time. Transformation will be impossible if we believe, or act as if, we are already perfect. We must be willing to change and look at what we may do that is seen as waste. The best way to discover that is by asking the customer for feedback.

Change happens when people decide to change. Decades of research on psychology, behavior and innovation have concluded that when people resist, things do not continue as first planned. Since the 1980s, Change Management, the art and process of changing people, has been part of business conversations. Authors and researchers like John Kotter (Leading Change, 1988) and Daryl Conner (Managing at the Speed of Change, 1992) made change, and the theory behind it, a popular topic in management discussions. By the mid-1990s to early-2000s consulting firms began to surface as thought leaders and experts in implementing Change Management across global companies. Some of you may be saying, “I’m not a global company.” But if you work with at least one more person other than yourself, you still need to manage change properly to be most effective.

Current thought leaders have continued to develop concepts to facilitate the implementation of change, one of those methods at the forefront is Prosci’s ADKAR® model for Individual Change. Prosci’s method highlights that organizational change begins at the individual level. Speed of adoption, utilization and proficiency inform ultimate success or failure. Managing change must be adapted to the change awareness and readiness of the organization and the scale of the change. If people don’t see or understand a reason to change, or if changes have been handled poorly in the past, then more effort is necessary for Change Management.

The Approach

Start by spending time with the customer, get to know their successes and pain points. The Lean method for this is Gemba, ‘go to the place’. You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know it exists. The best place to uncover an issue is at the source and with the people involved. Only then can you effectively uncover what needs to change and expose the root cause of the issues. This is best accompanied by using a diverse team to begin addressing what has been exposed and generating ideas on the best improvement solutions. Once an improvement or change is identified, create a plan to prioritize them and an outline for implementation:

  • Start with leadership communication of how the change supports the organization’s business goals and why the changes are important.
  • Implement the simplest ones first. Trying to do them all at once will exhaust your resources, but small wins will start to build momentum for transformation and build the required change in behavior at a deeper level.
  • Establish a process to check in on improvements, celebrate what’s successful and adjust what isn’t working. Remember, not all suggested improvements are going to be instant hits; practice is part of the journey of building change competency within an organization.
Lean thinking is centered around engaging with the people responsible for the work or the experience to make it better. Change Management is helping individuals and organizations successfully implement change. Thus, the harmony and benefit of Lean and Change Management to identify what’s broken, provide organizations the instruments to fix it, and the song book to ensure teams are in tune with the transformation.

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