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Lean means bucks (up to a point)

October 18th, 2009 admin Leave a comment Go to comments

Almost ten years ago now, I was party to the ultimate Lean rollout. Big Pharma, big money, big show, big everything.

I was based in France at the time (well, I still am), and as a management team we were booked into a top Parisien hotel for a whole week’s training on how to ‘lead’ Lean Six Sigma implementations. No McKinsey or Accenture this time – no, only the best would do, and we were given what I understood to be ex-military generals and captains etc who had all by coincidence undertaken a career change to become Lean Sigma specialists. With a liking for trips out to Europe, obviously.

It was a good training programme, I must say. Lots of Powerpoint, a little discussion, even a bit of action planning for when we were back in the office. Nothing new though for me personally, as I’d been working with the Lean principles and methods for a number of years already. And I must admit, at the end of that week, I did feel that there had been something missing from the course itself.

The missing piece of the puzzle was the people aspects, and all that, with hindsight, we’d stick under Toyota’s ‘Respect for People’ banner. There had been one section on changing the company’s culture, but nothing on, for example, what to say to the troops back home on day one back in the office. Nothing on handling difficult questions, nothing on how to adapt the managerial style, or on how to work better together as a team.

This was an area that had always fascinated me – how to get people to get things done, and change to better ways of doing it. Therefore, for the past ten years, it has been the subject of a great deal of personal reading, research and, as both a manager and a consultant, of trial and error and learning from successes and mistakes.

For the Big Pharma company in question, Lean definitely meant bucks – monthly reporting on savings against objectives, avoiding double-counting between projects by allocating savings proportionately etc etc – what a load of muda.

For the managers in us, Lean meant changing the way we worked with our teams, and gaining satisfaction from seeing people improve, both as individuals and as teams. There was not anything near like big bucks in all of this, but I’m sure that without our self-implemented ’Respect for People ‘ approach, the monthly reports would have been showing far less impressive savings.

In the current economic context, the human side of business is becoming even more important. I left Big Pharma three years ago, a long time after the Lean buzz has died its agonising death at the Corporate level.

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