This blog ends the series with the description of the 5 basic Lean principles and describes the latest – but not least – one: Perfection. Undoubtedly the drive behind many Lean concepts & tools like Continuous Improvement, the PDCA-cycle, Kaizen, etc.
Remind however that perfection is not only about quality of the end product or end service itself. And certainly not what the delivering organisation thinks itself about what should be ‘the perfection’. It is about what perfection is for customers. There is obviously a strong relation to Lean’s 1st principle: Customer Value. Perfection is also about delivering at the right time – i.e. when the customer expects it -, and at a fair price. It is of course also about – even mainly – how to achieve perfection for customers through the entire value stream or value chain. But if the Perfection principle is actually about Quality and Continuous Improvement, how is it different from other Quality Management philosophies or methodologies, like Total Quality Management, ISO, etc.? Let’s have a closer look…
Lean in the Quality & Improvement landscape
As clearly illustrated by Slack et al. in below diagram, Lean aims at gradual, evolutionary improvement, in contrast to Business Process Redesign (BPR) for example. Particularly the Greenfield BPR like explained in this blog, where you make tabula rasa – or a clean sweep – with the existing business processes. Lean is thus about evolution, rather than revolution.
Further on, as you may deduce from the X-axis, Lean shows a nice balance between:
- solutions and tools, the ‘what’, or say the concrete aspects, and
- the methods, representing the ‘how’, or the more abstract aspects
This most probably reflects Lean’s pragmatic approach, and it may also explain why Lean has become increasingly popular in a large variety of organisations. Not only manufacturing, but also service companies; as well as not-for-profit and governmental organisations. This chart, however, also reveals why Lean is not the most appropriate management discipline for “rapid turnarounds”, which may be needed in crisis situations or when disruptive market changes occur. Lean rather recommends the anticipation to such changes, thanks to continuously “listening” to customers and to spot future trends, so to quickly discover how the organisation should react on future market changes.
Lean’s perfection, drive to Quality
Unfortunately, like already mentioned in this previous blog, there is still a myth that Lean would be mainly on cost reduction; most probably cause of misuses of Lean as a pure “cost cutting” instrument by organisations that did not understand the real Lean philosophy. Well, this Perfection principle really affirms that this is a myth. Moreover, as you will read, Lean does not only drive quality at an operational level, but also at tactical and strategic levels: not only doing things right, but also doing the right things. Let’s have a glimpse to concepts, tools and techniques which may help you to improve quality. Although not each of these are ‘pure Lean’ ones, they are often applied in association with Lean by the same organisations. Just like Lean Six Sigma has become a more common combination nowadays than Lean and Six Sigma separately.
‘Keep it simple’ is also an expression embraced by Lean and its adepts. Indeed, complexity usually increases the need for control – making processes less efficient or more expensive – and is often a source of variation and variability, quite enemies of quality as you will read further on.
Though complexity may be caused by many – often hardly identifiable factors, it is convenient to basically distinguish 2 main kinds of complexity:
Product or Service complexity
Product complexity is the ‘raison d’être’ of many tools & techniques typically used in R&D processes, like Design of Experiments (DoE), Design for Six Sigma (DFSS), Design for Assembly (DFA), Group Technology (GT), etc.
But also services may be designed in many levels of complexity. Think of the difference between serving an hamburger versus a menu in a 4-star restaurant. Even though these are both meals, would the difference between these 2 not affect the processes of both organisations…?
Be aware that the process complexity may be quite independent of the product or service complexity. Consider power (electricity), a typical commodity, as an example: is hydro-power not less complex to produce (and its process easier to monitor) than nuclear power? While the consumer will not notice any difference in the switch-plug.
Needless to stress that process complexity is the hobbyhorse of Lean, BPM (Business Process Management), BPR (Business Process Redesign) and any similar management discipline. As they all aim at reducing complexity so to improve quality, but also to decrease costs by eliminating inefficiencies, called wastes. To name a few typical Lean tools which enable process complexity reduction: Value Stream Mapping (VSM), waste reduction, 5S, SMED, spaghetti diagrams, etc.
Fighting variation and variability
Though this is the core of Six Sigma and SPC (Statistical Process Control), also Lean aims at providing a constant output, so to guarantee a consistent product or service. Think of Taguchi, to whom the Taguchi methods and dito quality loss function are named.
All these methods are actually based on the same principle: values for quality-critical parameters should remain between a Lower and and Upper control limit (LCL and UCL). And the narrower the variation, i.e. the smaller the difference between the LCL and the UCL is, the better. Below diagram by Slack et al clearly illustrates how the Taguchi view more precisely indicates the impact of “cost of variability”.
There are few, if any, more concepts and tools more typical for Lean than Poka Yoke (or error-proofing), Visual Management & Visual Control, Andon, etc. These are all means to prevent mistakes and errors; thus before they could happen.
…and also preventing accidents
But the Lean Perfection principle also considers people-related criteria as key for Quality. It stresses the importance of appropriate training, acquisition of skills and experience before taking any responsibility. Lean’s often ignored 8th waste, like argumented in this blog by Pete Abilla, is a good illustration of this.
And in contrary to the organisational culture which is still too often present is Western countries, the no-blame culture is an essential part of the Lean philosophy. So that people do not tend to hide mistakes, but rather to learn from those, so to prevent similar errors in the future.
Perfection, engine of Continuous Improvement
I remember a quite recent interview with a Toyota Chief Executive, while he was asked why the company had become the largest global car manufacturer. He answered “because we, as an organisation, are continuously looking for improvement in its many aspects”. Becoming #1 was clearly a consequence, and not an aim. Let’s now have a closer look at these important words “in its many aspects”.
Continuous Improvement at all levels
If you are somehow familiar with quality or operational management, no doubt that you know the meaning of the PDCA-cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act) or Deming circle; or similar cyclic approaches like the BPM life cycle or any akin never-ending improvement cycle. And if you know Lean a bit, then the term Kaizen should not be new for you.
However, most organisations apply these mainly – if not only – at operational levels. On the other hand, many organisations conceive nice strategies and policies which are hardly – if ever – implemented. Even though they succeeded in removing vertical silo’s – obviously a good thing as it improves the organisational Flow -, horizontal silo’s seem to remain. E.g. there is no correct or fluent articulation of the strategy to tactical and operational levels and the management simply tells the workers what to do, without any meaningful communication – say the ‘why’. Or even worse: the top management does not involve any level beneath them – or even ignores operational challenges for their strategic planning. Obviously ending with poor strategy execution.
In his book “Hoshin Kanri for the Lean Enterprise”, Thomas L. Jackson well explains how applying Hoshin Kanri enables to get rid of this kind of horizontal silo’s. Central in the book is the concept of nested PDCA cycles. A concept which I will undoubtedly explain – and illustrate – more in depth in future blogs.
When top management engages middle managers and workers at all levels in strategic planning and execution, this results in “buy-in” of all managers and workers. And this finally leads to organisational self-control, where everyone is committed to any objective within the organisation, whatever the level (strategic, tactical or operational ones). Jackson rightly considers Hoshin Kanri and nested PDCA cycles as means to Organisational Learning.
Continuous improvement in any single cell of the organisation…
Even though it may seem hard to realise, actually every single worker of the organisation should be involved in continuous improvement. From Research & Development specialists to after-sales service people, from the CEO to the cleaning team, or anyone else.
…but particularly in the organisation’s DNA – and Mindset
Indeed, continuous improvement should rather be considered as the result of the overall organisational behavior. I like this blog by Jun Nakamuro, (from which below image comes from), in which he explains that Kaizen is not the Japanese word for ‘continuous improvement’, but rather for ‘continuous self-development’.
Eventually, if every worker applies Kaizen according to this true meaning, this will ultimately lead to continuous improvement within – and even to outside – the organisation.
Needless to stress that this type of organisational culture is not achieved “overnight”, but it is a rather long – basically also never-ending – journey. Maybe a mission statement like “The relentless pursuit of perfection” may help to acquire such a culture, when well respected. Probably not by coincidence the one of a Toyota top quality brand…
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