Why Lean Works

I stood in a long airport security line today. It was an unbelievable cluster of inefficiency.

As I stood there (almost an hour), I observed a bunch of things that could have improved the process. Some very practical, some probably not so practical.

I’m sure hundreds of people missed their planes. As I stood there, I began to consider our lean efforts.

One, there is great value in “going to Gemba.” As I said, there are a dozen things that could be tried. But I didn’t observe anyone out taking note of the issues. It was as if they had decided there was nothing to be done.

As a customer, I would have appreciated a bias for action. When things aren’t right, you appreciate an urgency to correct them. Every bit helps. The lack of response is maddening. I have another choice of airports and airlines. I’ll change from here on out. So will our customers if we don’t show urgency in the face of issues.

Second, you could tell the employees didn’t feel empowered. No one was trying anything different. No one was expressing regret about the situation. No one seemed concerned about the compromised plans.

How empowered do you feel to solve problems? Everywhere in our system, we need to create an atmosphere where people feel free to deal with customer complaints or anticipate customer issues and come up with actions to correct them.

Three, it’s terribly frustrating to watch waste and inefficiency in action. How often do we cause people to wait? How often do we subject suppliers, customers or colleagues to inefficiency?

That’s why lean works. In a lean culture, people work diligently and consistently to make things better. They feel empowered to raise issues as they come up and make them better.

The process of making things better makes for better teamwork, higher energy, more confidence and greater enthusiasm.

We aren’t perfect, I’m sure. But, if we steadfastly implement lean, we will have a team that is empowered and engaged.