Posts in Category: Lean Thinking

Isn’t this all about the culture?

We were talking about ‘lean’ and some of the associated benefits. Yes, it was an aside but still quite related to what we were talking about in regards to the production process decisions that need to be made.

I don’t often get into the culture stuff in my operations management (OM) classes – I find that they are often challenging enough, particularly where I have students that haven’t been at university in a while. Sometimes, however, it seems unavoidable.

Why do some implementations of ‘lean’ fail? Do the Japanese have some cultural advantages in making this work? The organisational behaviour and organisational change fall beyond the scope of my OM class, yet I’m no stranger to the concepts (see some of my publications on my staff page).

Simply having a manager decide “Right, we are going to totally change the way we run our operations” is NOT going to have a good outcome. Switching from the way many of our operations have been structured, to transition to a lean environment, represents a significant shift. Sure, implementing one or two tools or techniques can be easily accomplished, but it’s like ‘bolting on’ these techniques to our existing philosophy. Probably, it’s not going to work, and may even be harmful. To really make a success out of lean we need to drill all the way down to our culture and philosophy, which we probably have never even considered so explicitly before.

Like much of what I talk about in OM, congruence and alignment will be necessary to derive the benefits, fully. Simple words; yet, congruence is fiendishly difficult to achieve in a real operating environment.

Can we change the culture? Yes.

Can we do this easily? Not that *I* know of.

Hiring policies, effective candidate screening, intensive meetings and workshops, pilot studies to demonstrate feasibility and benefits, and time, time, time ….  Changing the culture enough to implement lean is a challenging proposition. Even if you do succeed, a lean system is not going to be appropriate for every organisation in every situation. The key to success is matching the operations management approach with your business context.