Thursday, July 19, 2007

Is it good to be lean?

Many people believe that lean 'everything' is good without knowing what it really means. Even the term 'Lean Innovation' has been used. How can a process that can potentially generate hundreds or thousands of new ideas by described as, or made lean? Could it be that we do not know what lean actually is?

I started thinking about 'lean' whilst on holiday. I booked a last minute break to Greece and was expecting the worst, only the sun could make up for the horrendous time I was expecting to have. Nothing could have been further from the truth. We did not have to pick up our tickets at the airport, we had brilliant transfers, we picked up our hire car in the middle of nowhere without signing any paperwork .... Hang on, you said ....Yes I know it sounds odd but it was just symptomatic of the way in which the holiday company, car hire company and all of the rest of the components were plugged together.

On our Greek island it would be impossible for a coach to visit all of the accommodation but we all had hire cars. The solution was to leave a line of hire cars by the side of the road, drop people off and let them drive to their villa and fill in the paperwork later and let the car hire company collect it in the evening. This was heaven compared to waiting for 2 hours in blazing sun in Majorca before picking up a car. Their answer was cold drinks but it still took 2 hours.

We still do not know how the excellent welcome hampers got from the local town to the holiday properties, everything seemed invisible and it worked like a dream. Creative it certainly was, lean it almost certainly was not. Other tour operators are lean - I know which I would prefer.

I also read a good book whilst in Greece, 'Stuart a life backwards' by Alistair Masters. The subject is fascinating but I was intrigued by the style. The book started in the present and then went backwards in time. This gave me an interesting thought. Many things work well forwards and in reverse, a bit like the Greek holiday machine but some things do not (remember your worn bicycle sprocket and chain from childhood). Even if your business process is not meant to work in reverse, try thinking about it in that way and any deficiencies will leap out at you. Fixing this will leave your process well oiled and maybe leaner.

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