The term Lean has been in manufacturing organizations for many years. Increasingly organizations are applying Lean to HR and Training departments too.
Many take it to be a process to do with the improvement of manufacturing efficiency. Indeed it was in the Toyota factories that the process started. Even in Toyota in the early days it was about a lot more than manufacturing processes. It covered supply, sales, logistics and administration of all kinds.
In the last 5 years, many organizations are keen to explore Lean. As an organizational development or transformational change process to improve their performance.
While Lean as a set of methodologies has proved itself in Logistics, Healthcare and many other sectors. Increasingly HR, Training and other departments say:
“This is not for us”
“It can’t work here”.
They were wrong. The movement has started.
It may be best to start off with understanding at a basic level what Lean is and is not.
What is Lean?
The Lean Enterprise Institute define Lean as:
The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.
The term Lean was used by Jim Womack, Ph.D., at MIT to describe Toyota during the 1980s
Lean is not a fixed methodology with the same tools in every situation. Lean is a set of principles. Principles that apply to Human Resources as much as any business function.
So what does this mean?
In any organisation or business there are processes to do. For example: Buy things. Assemble things. Sell things. Recruit people. Train people.
Traditional ways of looking at “waste”. Be that time, materials or people is to look at the cheapest or quickest in isolation. Lean takes a different approach. The key is not to look at each part in isolation, but the whole flow.
For example, product A might be cheaper at the point of sale – ie sheets of paper than sticky notes.
But if the need is for sticky notes, rather than have people in the business spray glue on the paper. Maybe buying sticky notes ready glued is more efficient? In Lean jargon this is looking at “value streams”. Both in the vertical and the horizontal flow.
Lean is about the whole process not just individual elements.
Principles of Lean
Much like other functions, applying lean to HR starts with the five step process.
The five-step thought process for guiding the implementation of lean techniques is easy to remember. But not easy to achieve:
- Specify value from the standpoint of the end customer by product family
- Identify all the steps in the value stream for each product family. Eliminating whenever possible those steps that do not create value
- Make the value-creating steps occur in tight sequence so the product will flow smoothly toward the customer
- As flow is introduced, let customers pull value from the next upstream activity
- As value is specified, value streams are identified, wasted steps are removed, and flow and pull are introduced, begin the process again. Continue it until a state of perfection is reached in which perfect value is created with no waste
SOURCE: LEAN Thinking – http://amzn.to/29YQD1e
To support the principles a large number of tools are available from a range of quality and analysis fields. More about those later.
Purpose, Process, People
Lean is a range of tools and methodologies to look at purpose, then process and people.
About the Lean Model
The Lean approach
- What is the purpose of the change? What true north and value are we providing, or simply: what problem are we trying to solve?
- How are we improving the actual work?
- How are we building capability?
- What leadership behaviours and management systems will support this way of working?
- What basic thinking, mind-set, or assumptions comprise the existing culture, and are we driving this transformation?
Applying Lean Tools to HR & Training
This is not a complete list, but some of the more common tools. If you are serious about using Lean, we would recommend both training and support from an experienced Lean consultant.
- 5 Why’s: The 5 Why’s process can uncover the root cause of a problem.
- 5S is a system for cleaning, organizing and maintaining a work area to maximize efficiency and consistency.
- An A3 Report is a problem shown on a single sheet of paper. When you confine your problem solving to one page of paper, you’re more focused and structured.
- Lean benchmarking is the process of using a successful organization or process as a reference for identifying ways for another organization to improve.
- Bottleneck Analysis studies a process to identify the step in the process where the capacity available is less than the capacity required.
- Cross training is a technique to develop flexibility in a workforce. By training employees to do some or all the other tasks. Flexibility is fundamental in a lean organization.
- Empowerment is a critical element of developing a lean culture. It encourages employees to take action to solve customer problems and improve the organization.
- Fishbone Diagram: A Cause and Effect Diagram displays graphically the factors and underlying causes of a defect or problem.
- A Flow Chart is a technique for visually representing a process in order to better understand the process and to identify opportunities for improvement.
- A Future State Map is a process map showing the design of a process after improvements are implemented. It represents the goal for the how the process will work.
- Gemba Walk: The Gemba walk is a lean technique for identifying waste. Several people will walk through a process. This allows people to learn from each other. It might be a “process walk through” rather than walking a production line or area.
- Poke-a-Yoke/Error-proofing: The goal of Poke-a-Yoke is to make it impossible for a defect to occur. Error-proofing is an important element of lean since defects are a significant contributor of waste.
- A process map shows the existing processes exactly as they currently exist. This tool is to identify opportunities for improvement. To measure the improvements after changes have been made.
- A spaghetti diagram monitors the actual flow of material or workers in a process. As the diagram shows resources repeatedly crossing each other, diagrams have been compared to a bowl of spaghetti.
- Standard Work is where process procedures are recorded so that there is a common approach to tasks. All standard work processes can then be trained, improving consistency and overall performance.
- Takt Time is a measure of the maximum allowable time to meet customer demand. Measure the available time divided by the rate of customer demand.
- Visual Metrics: Lean requires constant attention and focus, and implementing visual metrics is an effective way to provide this focus. Visuals can cover any aspect of an organization.
- Status indicators are colours showing the state of a process. The indicators signal a problem to be addressed. Red, Amber and Green are common
- Applying Lean tools in office process environments takes some consideration. In many places we rarely consider who our customers are. What expectations they have. We often build systems for our convenience. Not for the overall flow. Bottlenecks in recruitment might be things like security or reference checks.
Challenges implementing Lean in office environments
LEAN Thinking in HR & Training is no different to other business functions. We have inputs, processes and outputs (SIPOC). The processes are different. But we do “process” and add value.
Additionally, when looking at Lean there are some common traps that people fall into:
Applying lean to HR – Inventing your own words or vocabulary
It is easy to invent your own words for these new tools and processes. This just leads to confusion and a loss of clarity. It’s better to explain what that names means here, then create a new word.
Mind those excuses when using Lean in HR or Training functions
People In HR and other admin type areas are Olympic medal winners at giving reasons why LEAN wont work here. Senior leadership need to commit to the change. It’s the nature of change! Everything we do has a purpose. Has a customer and has a way of doing things. Those ways can be efficient or inefficient. When developed, these processes were probably efficient. Yet times have changed. So must the processes we use.
Do not customise too early!
There are lots of templates and tools in Lean toolkits. They are often easy to change in Excel or word. Do do at your peril. For often those changes may take out some of the key elements that will challenge your thinking and the net results. Leave them alone unless they really do not fit!
So how do we go about applying lean to HR and Training. If you are aware of Lean tools and methodology it is the same.
In addition businesses and our processes need to do “more with less”. This is a perpetual challenge. We know from the worlds of logistics, manufacturing etc is that we can map ALL processes. Mapped processes can then be documented. If the mapping and documentation just proves that you have it right, then that itself is a bonus. BUT most people find that change brings improvements. Improvements for CUSTOMERS.
Lean is especially relevant to Human Resources and Training functions. If we have more to do. Less people. We need to do the right things. In the right (best) way.
What is the Lean process?
Identify value. Map the value stream. Create flow. Establish pull and Seek perfection.
Q. So how do we go about applying lean to HR and Training?
A. In conclusion HR is just the same as any Lean implementation.