When Standard Work and Customer Focus comes Together


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In next week’s podcast with Steve Bell, the founder of Lean IT Strategies LLC, we discuss more than just Lean IT. We ended up talking (see the excerpt below) through much of the podcast on the context Lean seems to have; the ability to adapt while staying firmly rooted in its principles.

Joe: Does it help to be practicing Lean in other areas to start practicing lean IT?

Steve Bell: That’s an interesting question. I have a new book coming out here in just a few months. Dan Jones who was co?author with Jim Womack of Lean Thinking and a couple of other books really has helped define the practice of Lean. He’s the forward author for this new book of mine. Dan and I spent quite a bit of time talking about Lean in the context not just of IT but in the context of other industries. What Dan had to say about this was fascinating. He said he’s seen, over the last 20 years or so, Lean has moved well beyond manufacturing. It’s moved into healthcare and financial services and transportation and retail and distribution. And every time Lean moves into a new area, a new domain, a new industry sector, it manifests slightly differently. The Lean you would see in a hospital looks different in many ways than the Lean you would see in a manufacturing floor or a retail environment.

But when you get right down to it the principles of Lean are the same. It’s about collaborative learning. It’s about speed. It’s about quality. It’s about waste reduction. Those basic principles are the same.

What he has concluded and what I have concluded is you need to create a framework for the people who are actually doing the work to come together, figure out what the work is to be done. Where’s the value? Where’s the waste? And iteratively, through experiments, find ways to do it better and better. Each time you learn. You go through a cycle of learning. You improve the process and at the same time you understand more about the subtleties about the process and that’s where the paradox of Lean emerges. As you’re standardizing something you’re also gaining insights into it which leads to creativity and innovation.

Many people react to standard work thinking that you’re just turning people into robots. What you’re actually doing is you’re helping people, removing the drudgery and the repetitiveness from the work, making the work flow more smoothly and quickly, which frees up peoples valuable time and energy to figure out ways to do the work better and to do new kinds of work.

I think that’s the real magic of Lean whether it’s in IT or any other industry. When you see a team really get it and start to think and act like a team with a focus on the customer and they own the product, they own the process, they own their relationship with the customer, then the role of management isn’t so much a directive role or a controlling role but the role of management is to help remove the obstacles in the teams way. That’s when you have high performance, self directing teams that really start to energize the company. When that happens that’s where the momentum comes from.

I think Steve nails it in his answer. His reference to when Standard Work and Customer Focus comes together for a team and allows management to work on enabling work for the team versus managing the team is incredibly insightful. This upcoming podcast is one that you do not want to miss.

About Steve: For more than twenty five years, Steve Bell has delivered a balance of Lean, business process improvement, and management consulting services. Steve published Lean Enterprise Systems: Using IT for Continuous Improvement helping to introduce the emerging discipline of Lean IT. Steve and his partner Mike Orzen later published Lean IT: Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


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