Monday, July 09, 2012

How do you say "Lean" in Hebrew? "Lean."

Boaz Tamir of Israel Lean Enterprise has created a "Lean Club" comprising a small group of Israeli corporations and institutions who get together four times a year to share experiences, problems and success as they undergo their Lean journeys.  The group includes senior level executives from banking, insurance, food processing, high-tech, and health care.  Because the firms are all at different stages of Lean adoption, the diversity of viewpoints is stimulating and valuable to all.

Boaz started today's session with a reminder about the differences between traditional managerial approaches and that envisioned in a Lean organization.  The slide shown here presents a quick summary.  Boaz stressed that changes in the world economy would be filtering through to these businesses in Israel and suggested that Lean principles could help companies survive and thrive in the face of an avalanche of difficult events.

Today's special guests included Jim Womack, acknowledged world expert in the field.  Jim has a way with words, spinning out stories and theories about Lean and non-Lean organizations.  Both entertaining and informative, he makes it easy to learn.  He reminded the group that a firm needs to be clear about its purpose, but that this needs to be thought about from the customer's point of view.  He noted the schizophrenia we all exhibit -- being providers and producers in our corporate roles, but immediately flipping over to consumers when we go home from work.

Jim drew some comparisons between the desires of the two groups.  For examples, customers want transparency about the cost and quality of goods and services.  Businesses have often relied on opacity in selling their products and services.

He reminded those in the room, "All of you are mature businesses," and so your assets are threatened by changes in the marketplace.  "You think of how you can protect your undepreciated assets, but your consumers want something new."  Thus, "there is a disconnect between customers' and companies' valuation of assets."

Jim said, "This is part of life."  Firms need to adjust to the fact that the frequency of the need to re-evaluate customers' needs is accelerating.

But, he noted, "It is not just assets that are threatened.  It is your processes."  He pointed out that traditional corporate folks who conduct process evaluation often do not think about customers.  They often pursue enhancement to processes that don't bring value to customers.

He reminded us that "all processes involve people."  Therefore it can be threatening and frightening to people in a firm when process design is coming.  The irony, though, "is that you can't develop new processes without people."  Hearkening back to Boaz's points, he said that it takes a different kind of management to work in a Lean way.  Unfortunately, he noted, "management thinking is often impoverished."

These were sobering thoughts, even for this group of executives who are committed to Lean, but the group had an upbeat attitude and took Jim's comments in stride as they engaged in collaborative learning during the session, sharing stories and challenges from their own experiences.

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