Five Lean Lessons to Live By

Lean reflects the natural evolution of business and knowledge-based work: data-driven, yet practicing mindfulness in everyday production. At the team level, Lean prioritizes helping members pinpoint inefficiencies and work together to optimize results for the customer. It helps teams stay focused on their goals without becoming overwhelmed at any one stage of the creation process.

Lean has long held a spot of great intrigue for us, so in 2016 we developed our first Lean Business Report based on survey responses from a number of Lean-practicing organizations across the globe. We compiled data to discover how Lean was transforming some of the highest-performing organizations.

As we combed through survey responses, we became particularly interested in these questions: What do all high-performing Lean teams have in common? What insights can we gather from the experience of these teams to help better integrate future teams that are new to Lean?

Here are five lessons that will help you become a high-performing Lean organization.

Keep Focused On Flow

The overall goal of Lean strategy is to optimize the flow of production to eventually add value to the customer. Using insights gathered from teams and customers, Lean organizations make decisions to eliminate waste from their processes to reach this goal. Improvements to flow don't just happen -- flow has to be a conscious priority that’s always in consideration.

Compared to low-performing teams, the strongest Lean organizations were significantly more likely to state a priority of goals related to flow. This includes objectives like increased team productivity, more efficient processes, and management better suited to address changes like workflow increases or employee onboarding.

Driven By Data

What brings Lean strategies into the forefront of the 21st century management strategy is a reliance on measurable data and analytics, instead of listening to someone because they are the highest paid person in the room and making decisions based on emotion or past experiences. Collecting and responding to data will ensure decisions accurately reflect the production process.

The strongest Lean teams don't just measure work performance; they look at efficiency and the speed of production stages by gathering data on lead time and work-in-progress speeds. By basing strategy on measured data and analytics, Lean teams can accurately and efficiently improve the quality of their work and the way it’s performed.

Following the Instructions With Your Lean Tools

While it may be helpful to have a mess of tools at your disposal, it means nothing if you don't know how to use them properly. Lean tools are the same way; and while many teams reported that they used a wide variety of Lean tools (from Kanban to Continuous Flow methods), if you try to adopt too many tools at once, you risk losing your team in the process.

For most teams (83%), Kanban is a vital part of their visual workflow management. It's a straightforward way to get started on Lean with little upfront cost and background knowledge. It's the perfect blend of philosophical and practical, and through the system teams adopt ideas on how to pull their work along as opposed to the work pushing its way through.

Understanding Everyone's Journey is Different

Every Lean team will have their own unique path to success, and no single path is the best. Some teams start as IT projects that expand rapidly, while others are bred out of a top-down organizational philosophy switch. Sometimes Lean can even evolve out of one team member managing their own work tasks with Lean strategies and the rest of the team taking note of his or her efficiency.

How the journey started isn't as important as staying in sync during it and sharing in the experience together. This means that teams should use common language, consistent measurements for data and practices, and common tools and structures when possible.

Experience Comes with Time

Don't feel discouraged in the early stages of adopting Lean methods. The entire process takes time to get used to and fine-tune. The good news? 88% of teams who identified themselves as beginners reported moderate to significant levels of improvement in project success.

Don't worry! If you're looking for a way to successfully engage with Lean practices, keep these lessons in mind as guidance along the path towards efficiency.

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