What is lean?
The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources. -Lean Enterprise Institute (lean.org)
Lean manufacturing is a process improvement methodology based upon the highly acclaimed Toyota Production System (TPS). The main focus in lean manufacturing is the removal of waste from a value stream. leanprocess.net
So, “lean” has to do with trimming away things that get in the way of optimal performance. Processes and practices often take on a life of their own over time, and before you know it you have a monster on your hands. Normally lean consultants (six sigma/process improvement) are brought in when performance has devolved to a state of crisis, but smart organizations engage lean principles as part of their business-as-usual operating culture.
Lean manufacturing is underpinned by 5 principles:
- Specify what creates value from the customer’s perspective
- Identify all the steps along the process chain
- Make those processes flow
- Make/offer only what is pulled by the customer
- Strive for perfection by continually removing wastes
Applying these lean processes to human performance creates a focus on productivity, quality, and customer satisfaction. Practicing lean in performance management enables peak performance and allows employees to focus on value-adding tasks.
Performance management is a structured process for setting expectations, identifying key performance indicators (metrics), measuring outcomes, and improving performance through accountability and feedback. Performance management is both a science and an art. Performance technology provides the framework to structure and analyze human performance, while emotional intelligence and relational skills ensure a sensitivity and empathy. A solely scientific approach is dehumanizing and detrimental to lasting performance change.
Specify what creates value from the customer’s perspective. Job descriptions and performance accountability should place a priority on customer- facing behaviors. Identify how the role supports customer satisfaction, identify how the customer is impacted when the job is (and isn’t) done well, and tie performance metrics and rewards to those behaviors.
Identify all the steps along the process chain. A job-specific SIPOC will do the trick here. A SIPOC is a picture of Suppliers – Inputs – Processes – Outputs – and Customers surrounding a specific role or task. Identify how performance is impacted along the way, from when work is handed off from one role to another, and the interdependencies that may create roadblocks and inefficiencies.
Make those processes flow. Remove barriers to performance and hold employees accountable for keeping things flowing smoothly. Reward process improvements and build expectations for internal customer service. Create a culture that challenges the status quo in pursuit of optimized performance.
Make/offer only what is pulled by the customer. This is somewhat of a repeat of the first principle, but an additional point when it comes to performance improvement is to be aware of processes, and even positions, that don’t add value. Just because a position has always existed, or a form is always used, or a handoff has always been a part of the process, doesn’t mean it adds value. Go back to the analysis of what supports customer experience, and eliminate everything that gets in the way. This streamlines performance management by simplifying the focus to one thing: the customer.
Strive for perfection and continually removing waste.Perfection is a lofty goal, and probably not realistic. But striving for perfection, as elusive as it may be, keeps us focused on continuous improvement. Waste is anything that hinders peak performance: tasks and deliverables that don’t add value to the customer; missed opportunities to leverage resources; and systems that create more work than they’re worth.
Using the principles of “lean” to manage human performance ensures an emphasis on quality work that ties to the customer experience. The benefit of applying lean to performance management is that “fluff” (waste) is removed on the front end, through better performance planning, and on the back end as performance is evaluated for efficiency and effectiveness.
In an age where “doing more with less” is standard, eliminating non-value-adding tasks, systems, and processes means you can still expect high quality work even if you’re running with a smaller staff. If the reports are correct that most of us work far below capacity (50-70% by some accounts), then applying lean will help us move toward better time management, stronger accountability for the things that matter, and continuous improvement across the organization.