Doing More with Less
What’s your definition of lean? There are many. Personally, I think you shouldn’t focus too much energy on developing definitions. Perhaps the most common definition however is “doing more with less.” It’s cute, short, and to the point. It’s says a lot, but still leaves a little to the imagination.
What do you hear when you see that definition? Most organizations hear “with less.” Particularly through the latest economic downturn, many organizations have been focused on reducing costs and even reducing their overall organization including their assets and people. This might be a situation you find yourself in.
Because you have been particularly focused on cutting and saving recently, it is easy to focus on lean being about less. I believe people are focused more on the “less” part of that definition. This of course is important because “less” is where you get the cost down and the waste out of the system. Numerous lean methods are designed primarily for this purpose such as waste walk, kaizen events, standardized work, and most value stream mapping efforts. But the “more” part of that statement is equally important. It is “doing more” – so what is the more. It should be defined as providing more value, having more capabilities, and being stronger. The true vision of lean should not be stripped down, it should be strength.
In the human body, lean is not the model that is skin and bones. Think of the image of the supermodel or Hollywood starlet. Yes, there is very little fat, but that doesn’t make it healthy. Instead, the example should be the Olympic swimmer or gymnast. This is a person who is built for purpose and performance. It is also low in fat, but it is also very healthy. It is very strong.
Consider the same difference for your organization. Build your organization for performance. Focus on how you can provide more value for your customers, both inside and outside the organization. Focus on how you can build more capabilities, more skills, more robust processes.
One way you can do this is to turn your waste into value. Consider the lumber industry as an example. For centuries really, creating lumber produced a wasteful byproduct of sawdust and wood chips. However, through innovation, this throwaway was turned into value-added products such as particleboard and wood pellets for stoves. Look at the waste streams – what can you salvage that can provide value.
Another way is consider your organizational capabilities. Perhaps the only truly sustainable competitive advantage is your intellectual capital or people capabilities. Are you fully developing these? Every project and every improvement that has a performance objective could also have a learning objective. Maybe you reduced some cost, but you also grew the capabilities of a person. IF you manage learning objectives, you can build new strength while taking out waste.
Lean is “doing more with less” but it is both sides of this equation that really matters.