Recently I had a job interview. Company was hiring a LEAN manager for one of the offices. The office was expanding rapidly as a result of decision to centralize administrative functions. New functions and teams were emerging every month bringing up more and more complex processes. LEAN manager was expected to fight the chaos and bring the order to the office.
During the interview I received a question “Which LEAN tools you will apply?”. The question is not as easy as it seems. You are not able to answer it in a right way. If the intend was to examine how many tools I am familiar with, the right answer would be to list all the tools in alphabetical order and hope that you have mentioned more than previous candidate. But if not?
If you do LEAN things quite a while, you well know that issues are being solved not by exploiting all available tools, but, contrary, elegantly adjusting tools to the situation. Did I have enough information about the situation in the office to name the right ones? No, I believe, not.
System view is what I like about LEAN. LEAN will never work for you, if you understand it as a set of tools. It is something more, but, definitely, not a religion. It is a management framework that focuses on value creating process. This is why everything should start from value stream mapping. I believe it is one of those universal tools to begin LEAN journey and get answers to some fundamental questions.
Only having answers to these questions we can start building a set of LEAN tools or at least refuse those that will not be useful. It would be very strange, if shared service centre had chosen to exploit “5S” activities to improve problem solving skills and “5 Whys” was a main choice to improve safety and efficiency in a factory.
Yes, I am sketching a bit. This was just an illustration why it is very important to analyse the situation before choosing the tools. And yes, such answer is not always accepted with enthusiasm. Analysis is usually perceived as slow, boring and a waste of time.
And yet it is essential, because a chosen tool should fit to your governance model. It should not be perceived as additional burden or duplication. It should be compatible with other tools and methods in place. Finally, it should be well accepted and mastered by the employees.
Maybe the best answer to this question is „Let me start from analysis tools and when we will see…“