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What Icare did constantly better: a short case

Lean is often a waste of effort

March 16, 2015 – by Otie Hauser &samhoud consultancy

Lean is popular. This philosophy, which originates from the traditional marketing industry, has been used increasingly over the past decade within other sectors such as government, financial services and care. As a result, Lean has become more relevant for the Dutch services economy and therefore been embraced by it. Lean promises efficiency-related improvements for organisations. Mention the word Lean and ‘waste’ becomes visible and is eliminated immediately. Every year, tens of millions of euros are invested in Lean programmes, which increases the pressure on success. A resounding success is lacking in most cases. Lean often actually leads to a waste of effort, even though it is meant to reduce waste. How is that possible? What are the factors for failure? And what are the factors for success?

&samhoud surveyed 15 organisations that have implemented Lean in recent years. Over 300 people participated, including managers, employees and members of Lean programme teams. They were asked the following key question: How do you ensure Lean is embedded in a sustainable manner?

Poor results
Many organisations have first-hand experience of how results fail to meet expectations. In most cases this is caused by a lack of embedding, as revealed by our survey. Lean is usually implemented as a cost programme or a programme for process optimisation. That programme then moves from department to department. In this case, Lean proves to be a set of instruments that focuses on short-term project objectives and the sub-optimisation of a sub-process. Over the course of time, this inevitably leads to a decrease in discipline and attention, and ultimately to disillusioned customers, employees and managers too.

Focus & Leadership
Insufficient focus is placed on the benefits that can be yielded by all improvement-related initiatives. Focus is lacking, on the whole, even in relation to the operation. According to studies, organisations with a below average score have a striking lack of focus and inspiring and disciplinary leadership. Focus, transparent and short cyclic: one of the ways for an organisation to get and remain in control. It goes without saying that leaders and employees also need information and data to keep a grip on the operation in order to realise goals. Compiling the correct data is not the only important aspect – how you handle that data is also crucial. That is why connection with leadership is so important. You can have all your data properly organised, but it will remain the weakest link if a manager fails to focus on it.

Cultural embedding
To sum up, we can draw the following conclusion from the survey: organisations do not adequately connect Lean to their vision, strategy, management and leadership. It therefore usually remains a project-type exercise and does not embed itself within the organisation’s culture and DNA. Consequently, Lean is then seen as a waste of effort. That feeling ebbs away over time and a new project is initiated.

Learn more about the integrated approach and be inspired by our cases: http://consultancy.samhoud.com/en/expertise/strategy-business-models-and-execution



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