Lean Manufacturing’s full range of principles and tools can lead to a total reshaping of an organisation; its purpose, systems and culture. This is the paradigm shift that makes Lean outstanding when it works as a whole. Benefits are then measured not in mere percentage terms but by two fold and three fold improvements. The challenge is in achieving such ‘whole system’ improvements when Lean is applied to a specific business in unique circumstances, with different processes, structures and rhythms.

It is immediately apparent simply by entering into a workplace when Lean has created a ‘whole system’ improvements. The full transformation can be seen and felt. The place is tidy, the processes efficient, teams own their area, and the people are empowered by a renewed purpose and culture. Everyone will be proud of the achievement and feel that they are contributing to the impact on the bottom line. People look you in the eye. There is simply a buzz in the air.

In spite of its impressive range of tools, Lean does not apply fully to every organisation, nor does it always create such a ‘whole system’ change. This is especially so in those enterprises operating outside of Lean’s original home ground of automotive, electronics and consumer goods, in areas such as process industry, the service sector, health, local government and large project engineering. For many companies it is not appropriate or possible to apply the full set of principles and tools. In others the enthusiasm of management for quick cost-savings has led companies to apply Lean in a piecemeal, tool-based way. The aim has been to ‘do Lean’ rather than create the paradigm shift within the organisation as a whole.

It is obvious on walking into an enterprise where Lean has only been applied in part and the paradigm shift has not occurred. There is still something tantalisingly missing. The teams themselves work well enough but the whole thing still has days when it feels like a misfiring engine. People still don’t really get any great satisfaction out of their jobs. There just isn’t the confidence that were you to rev the engine the vehicle would accelerate smoothly away. A radical change in purpose and culture has simply not been inspired. The benefits are patchy and unreliable.

In order to enable organisations to transform themselves, we have developed a way to ensure the ground is fertile for Lean and that the vision is of ‘wholeness as well as leanness’. We can equip people with a tool set to achieve a whole systems change where a paradigm shift in purpose, systems and culture happens. It provides the framework to apply the right set of Lean tools, to spot the gaps where other tools are more appropriate and to realise where sector-specific solutions or innovative new approaches are needed.

Projects typically lead to an initial 10%-30% improvement against key performance measures. The organisation then has the conditions set for ‘whole systems’ levels of improvement and for a much healthier future.

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