Organisational Support For Lean

Scaffold by pakornThere are many examples of organisations that have ‘tried Lean’ and found it wanting. There is a fairly typical industrial example here, and a discussion of problems in health care at this link.

Zoe Radnor, of Cardiff Business School, undertook a series of case studies in health service settings in the UK, including a mental health services Trust. Her published findings are available on line. Radnor compared three different Trusts, and described the differences in their use of Lean techniques, and the impact of the techniques in each organisation.

Radnor suggests that organisational readiness in Lean includes:

  • having an improvement strategy
  • engagement of staff through appropriate training and development
  • having a process view
  • understanding customer requirements
  • strong committed leadership
  • understanding demand, capacity and variation

Her research findings make interesting reading. Radnor found examples where the work had made an impact, but also other instances where data remained difficult to obtain and the core idea of added value for the customer was not always understood. Staff working in these Trusts were asked what they thought was needed in order to make Lean changes sustainable. In general staff did feel there was a future to Lean. There were differences between the three organisations, and Radnor concluded that the degree of organisational support, understanding of the purpose and principles, and a move to continuous improvement were all important in supporting change.

Lonnie Wilson discusses Lean failures in industry. Wilson, like Radnor, notes that concentrating on Lean tools alone is largely pointless: you also have to know what you want to happen, and to do that, you need to understand purpose and processes. Wilson argues that knowing your current processes, your intended future state, and focusing on the steps you need to take to achieve them are essential. Wilson also largely concurs with Radnor’s findings that embedding Lean at all levels of the organisation is required.

Does this mean that there is no point in enthusiastic staff applying Lean ideas in their workplace, if there is no engagement from their organisation? I don’t think so. Most of the ideas are common sense, and can be usefully applied anywhere. To make Lean work across an entire organisation, however, and to increase its impact, managers need to think carefully about how to align their organisation to support Lean methods at scale.

Photo courtesy of pakorn at

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