For many years, I have advised teams of engineers and scientists on how to adopt lean thinking to improve processes and systems. Recently I have been reflecting on how I can use lean practices at a personal level to make me more effective at achieving my own personal and professional goals.
Many people who adopt a personal lean program start by conducting a Five S (Sort, Set, Shine, Standardise, and Sustain) to their work area or desk. However, for me this would not be enough, a better-organised desk would not make me radically more effective or efficient. A Five S alone does not represent a lean transformation.
Personal lean reaches beyond tools such as Five S and influences how one thinks and approaches work.
Finchbaugh and Carlino (2006) identify the following five lean practices to improve personal effectiveness.
Practise One: Always work for the customer.
Time is an individual’s most precious resource. Once wasted, time cannot be regained. An individual’s priority is maximising value to their customer. On a personal level, individuals need to identify their customers and focus on providing value to those customers.
At times a person is his or her’s own customer. Activities such as training, exercise, meditation, education and reflection serve mainly the individual. In this case, the person is providing value to herself or himself.
Sometimes it is difficult for an individual to identify their customer. At the start of each day, we should begin by identifying who our customers will be for that day and what it is they expect and value from us. At the end of each day, we should mentally score ourselves on how we delivered to our customer’s expectations. Through time we can modify our behaviour to improve our performance to our customer’s expectations of us.
Practice Two: Problem solve at a relationship level.
Apply the same rigour of problem-solving to our relationships as we do to operational and technical problems. Relationships are critical to personal effectiveness. Like technical problems, relationship problems need to be brought to the surface and dealt with as quickly as possible. Too often individuals cover up relationship problems and compensate for them. Coordinated work between individuals is formed by a network of commitments. The more skilled we are at managing commitments the more effective we will be in achieving results.
Coordinated work between people requires a clear expectation of commitments; the expected result, the expected output, the timetable for the commitment, why it is important, who is responsible. We need to keep our commitments and give clear expectations of our requests to others.
Practice Three: Personal Learning through the PDCA cycle.
The Plan/ Do/ Check/ Act cycle is often used by improvement teams. The PDCA cycle can also be used at a personal level to improve individual performance. The PDCA cycle can form a tool for lifelong individual learning.
For the Plan cycle, an individual should define what they expect to happen given a specific course of action. They follow their planned actions (Do) and study and reflect on what occurs (Check), they can then readjust their actions to get closer to their expected outcome. (Act). Applying this cycle on a personal level aids the learning process.
Practice Four: Master what you can control.
Focus on what you can control and influence. Many things are beyond our control, focus your time and energy on items you can control and influence.
Practice Five: See more with your own eyes
Go to the Gemba. Observe things directly; this does not imply that you do not trust others but seeing things with your own eyes helps achieve personal understanding. Understanding the underlying processes and how they really work is invaluable information.
I am restarting my lean journey for 2021 by
- Identifying and working on what my personal customers value.
- Directly addressing relationship problems by keeping commitments and being crystal clear on what I need and expect from others.
- Letting go of the things I cannot control and focusing my time on what I can control.
- Apply the PDCA cycle to solve my problems
- Directly observe issues. Leave my desk and walk the process.
Flinchbaugh, J., and Carlino, A. 2006. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean. Dearborn, Michigan: Society of Manufacturing Engineers.