The Lean Philosophy has been around for some decades now and it’s constantly adapting to the market. Although its main concepts can be seen as timeless, tools and practices evolved throughout the years to better fit the needs of the people. To talk more about these changes, I had the chance to speak with Christopher Granville Thompson, 15-year director at the Lean Institute Brasil (LIB).
His journey with Lean began in the same industry that coined the meaning of Lean: automobile manufacturing. Over the years, Thompson focused on the manufacturing industry in a broader sense while closely witnessing how Lean began to be deployed in industries of various sectors, engaging with this process of natural evolution and adaptation.
In the past 10 years, Lean spread to segments like business, marketing, health and technology; ending up with the digital transformation that we see today.
When Lean Becomes Digital
The world is becoming more digital over the years, there’s no denying it. Companies that don’t seek to adapt will likely become obsolete, losing possibilities of new opportunities and markets.
However, launching a digital transformation without rethinking your processes to a better digital fit is an effort doomed to inefficiency.
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Thompson highlights the relevance of the Lean philosophy in this process of transformation: cutting all kinds of wastes and boosting performance through better practices, consequently delivering more value. Also, he pinpoints the fact that technology is getting more accessible and cheaper day by day, so it’s easier to make experiments and test new formats of business without spending that much money.
Still, Thompson says that there’s a lot of companies that begin their journey forgetting what truly is value for their customers (whether internal or external). This is where Lean can truly shine, by leveraging the transformations based on its principles. Lean is not only about identifying your problems and finding new solutions, but also about new technologies, tests and continuous improvement.
Entering the 4.0 Industry with the Lean mindset
Thompson highlighted the six levels of industry maturity when we talk about how tech is applied within companies until the reaching of the so-called Industry 4.0. To better understand this global concept, it’s required a little digging. Check out the six levels of technology maturity:
- The most basic and essential level is just to have computers.
- The establishment of interconnected networks that share data.
- The possibility to have a clear view of the processes of the company.
- The shift point of just seeing data and making strategic decisions based on data.
- The predictability of avoiding future problems or errors by learning from prior data.
- The use of artificial intelligence to handle major decisions of the processes on its own.
This last maturity level is still much more theoretical than practical, but will eventually become popular with processes that already have some degree of autonomy. Most of the companies today can be found between the third and fourth level, which is a great point to deploy Lean alongside theses changes and evolutions.
Lean can be the founding base for digital transformations with its principles, practices and tools. Kaizen, Value Stream Mapping, A3, Kanban, Gemba Walks: all these things can help in this process. That’s why Christopher Thompson said that this philosophy has a great fit for the Industry 4.0 boom. Lean is all about problem-solving, finding value and cutting wastes, actions that technology can make much more clear to make effective decisions.
There’s no point in striving for the Industry 4.0 and beginning a strong digitalization process without applying Lean concepts first. By doing so, it’s risky to digitize bad processes and generate data that people won’t be able to use, as they won’t be capable of proper solving problems. This is a mistake that many companies end up taking, says Thompson.
Digital Lean for all
Lean roots can be found in the manufacturing industry, but its ideas have spread throughout different areas over the years. Countless startups have been applying Lean in their processes and strategies, usually better than in traditional companies, Thompson points out. Startups have been doing something crucial that big companies failed to: solving problems in an effective and straightforward way.
Startups in general focus more on solving specific issues following the basic principles of Lean problem-solving, but with their own touches of innovation. Large companies usually have so many problems that the focus to solve them gets lost. However, it doesn’t matter if the Lean applications change over time to better fit the needs of this or that company, one aspect will undoubtedly never change: the focus on the team’s engagement.
The Lean philosophy can be the ideal guideline for digital transformations, changes that will have strong foundations on better value identification and waste avoidance.
Christopher Thompson says that the Lean Manager of the future is a dynamic professional that adapts the available technology to the Lean principles, extracting the most out of any process, project or strategy by mitigating problems in their root causes, regardless of their respective industry or scenario.