No, your business isn’t different!
Yes, Lean does work in your industry!
There seems to be a consistent theme that resonates with most organizations when they are first exposed to Lean philosophies and tools. Most people seem to think that their organization is different, unique or special in some way that will prevent the Lean concepts from working or limit their impact.
A study of the various change models and philosophies, has led me to accept the fact that Lean practitioners (and change agents of all types) bear a significant burden of convincing others that change is needed and that it will be worth the effort. Deep down, it frustrates me a little, but I accept it as part of the change agent role and realize that without the need for paradigm shifts, my chosen profession would be equally unneeded.
I suppose that the burden of proof is what frustrates me. After all of the literature, conferences, articles and success stories that should have long ago removed any doubt that the Lean tools reduce waste, streamline processes and improve the competitive edge, shouldn’t it be up to the individual in doubt to disprove them? Countless capital requests have been rejected because the decision makers lack the vision and understanding to relate the impact of improved flow, velocity and responsiveness to the bottom line. Shouldn’t we require the submission of a capital request to continue functioning with the current level of waste instead of seeking approval to eliminate it? Shouldn’t doubters be required to prove Lean won’t work rather than change agents being required to prove that it will?
I can’t think of a single industry that the Lean tools cannot transform (if you can, please post a rebuttal in the comments and we will have some good - and friendly - debate over the question). Continuous process improvement leading to less waste and frustration is a core belief of the Lean practitioner. How can one argue with this basic principle? Didn’t it lead to the invention of the wheel? I suppose it is not so much the Lean principles that are hard for people to accept, but the application of these principles that doesn’t always seem obvious.
Don’t get me wrong, every Lean implementation is indeed different and special, but what must be tailored is the technique of applying the principles, not the principles or tools themselves. With that said, I will wake up Monday morning, get on a plane and go back to the constant process of introducing “new” concepts, convincing, convincing, sales, convincing and implementing change. This is the joy of being a Lean practitioner, and even though it can be frustrating at times, I am passionate about the journey and can’t imagine doing anything else.
So, if someone in your organization comes to you and suggests an improvement idea or that the organization is in the process of launching a Lean transformation process, please research before you respond with a list of reasons why it won’t work. Remember that there are probably already a dozen or so examples of how it works in your industry and if there aren’t, you may just create a competitive advantage for your organization. If you approach it with an open mind, everyone will learn something along the way. You may even prove that your company is special and different…In the creative ways you find to implement Lean.