What is Lean?
Lean is a set of principles.
Organizations can maximize customer value through eliminating waste, with respect for people.
Lean is a way of thinking that focuses on optimizing the flow of work from a customer's perspective, rather than optimizing siloed departments.
Lean is a collection of tools that apply these principles and thinking to the challenge of identifying and removing problems and waste.
Lean for knowledge work and service work
We find that people love the principles, thinking, and tools of Lean. This is because…
- Lean is a system that addresses all levels of an organization.
- Lean has been developed and refined over a long period of time.
- Lean gives the organization a framework for adapting to change and improving performance.
- Lean opens up space for people to creatively remove problems where and when they occur.
- Lean helps establish a workplace where everyone directly contributes to the value that is created for customers. It is not about eliminating jobs or people.
- Lean is focused on continuous improvement. When improvement becomes a routine part of the work, it doesn't need to be comprehensive, expensive, or risky.
- Lean is pragmatic.
Respect for people
At Koné Consulting, "respect for people" is the most important aspect of Lean. It's also the first aspect to go out the window in many botched attempts at Lean, or projects where people have Lean inflicted on them.
For us, respect for people means…
- Developing the skills and talents of individual people in an organization.
- Helping people identify the resources and authority they already have, and utilize these to seek ways to better serve customers.
- Developing environments of mutual trust and shared understanding.
- Changing the culture of organizations from fixation on "results" and "accountability" to focus on building quality into the work and orientation around an organization's purpose.
A3 8-step problem solving method
Our go-to tool for continuous improvement is the A3. This is a large, blank sheet of paper—or digital equivalent—that people use to organize their thinking around a problem, communicate about it, and design and try out ways to remove the problem.
When we facilitate one- or two-day A3 workshops, people that are closest to the work gather to identify problems, uncover root causes, and devise creative, wise countermeasures for removing problems. We leave the room with specific, detailed, appropriately-sized plans for experiments to run.
During an A3 workshop, we give participants the templates and materials they'd need to work on their A3s internally. We have found that people are comfortable updating and creating A3s after being guided through the method. It is a standardized, repeatable process that—in our experience—always yields surprising results.
Value stream improvement
A value stream is the sequence of work or events that happen in order to fulfill a customer’s request by delivering something of value to them.
We use a value stream improvement (VSI) method with people who are embarking on business process reengineering, program assessment, or organizational planning.
First, we work with leadership to identify and name the primary value streams by which the organization creates and delivers value to its customers.
Next, we meet with management to identify major performance problems in these value streams, and scope the work ahead.
Then we gather the people who do the work in a given value stream—and sometimes customers and other stakeholders—for a workshop lasting two days or so. In this workshop, participants:
- create a visual map of the current state of the value stream;
- identify problems that impact the performance of this value stream, from a customer's perspective;
- devise countermeasures (or proposed solutions) that are possibilities for removing these problems;
- design a future state for how the value stream as a whole could be improved; and
- draft plans for specific, rapid, and "ready-to-work" experiments to run in order to validate countermeasures.
Finally, we help people at all levels of the organization participate in running the experiments—typically over a 60- or 90-day timeframe—and decide where and how to standardize and build on successes.
When we facilitate value stream improvement, we see organizations make changes in many areas to remove the problems they identify, including:
- redesign of communication processes,
- standardizing work,
- changes to physical office space and equipment layout,
- development and implementation of performance metrics, and
- simplification of process and policy.
What we do
We facilitate workshops where people who do the work identify problems, develop strategies for removing problems, and design experiments for acting on what they've discovered. We'll support you during the term of these experiments, work with leadership to develop people and teams, and leave you with everything you need to making continuous improvement an ongoing, everyday practice.
- A3 8-step problem solving workshops
- Kaizen (continuous improvement) events
- Value stream improvement
Our training curriculum helps people at all levels of an organization learn how they can contribute to continuous improvement. We don't train in a vacuum, but integrate training into workshops and projects to give people the principles and tools they need to develop their thinking and skills.
- Introduction to Lean
- Lean for leadership
- Value stream thinking and improvement
- A3 8-step problem solving method
- Visualizing work, designing work
- Lean thinking: beyond introduction to Lean
- Lean coaching for problem solving and running experiments
Download our lean course catalog for more detail on training sequencing and materials.
People ask us to give them tools or to facilitate events, which we're happy to do. But we want to help you improve the culture of your organization. Anything we can do for you, we want you to be comfortable doing for yourself. That's why our longer-term projects blend facilitated workshops, training, and individual and small-group coaching with a goal of helping your organization internalize Lean principles, practice the Lean way of thinking, and know how to use Lean tools.
We maintain some worksheets and templates used to practice Lean thinking or to support Lean activities—visit our Resources page to download and use these as you see fit.
- San Mateo County Human Services Agency, Lean transformation and continuous improvement projects
- Boulder County Housing and Human Services, continuous improvement project
- County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency, continuous improvement project
- City of Beaverton Community Development (partnering with Kennedy Consulting), value stream improvement
- South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, work visualization and continuous improvement projects
- South Carolina Department of Social Services, Lean and work visualization workshops
- State of Massachusetts, Department of Early Education and Care (partnering with the Urban Institute), value stream improvement for child care subsidy process improvement