Demystifying ‘Lean’

lucy_worrallMaking services more effective, efficient and economical using ‘Lean’ techniques borrowed from car manufacturer Toyota and others is becoming ever more popular in the affordable housing sector.

This is unsurprising, given that providers continue to face a barrage of challenges now and into the future, with enduring welfare reforms, funding cuts and increasing pressure from the regulator and the general public to demonstrate that they are driving value for money in their organisations.

Yet, in my experience, the term ‘Lean’ is normally accompanied with an outpouring of jargon such as ‘Six Sigma’, ‘value stream’, and Japanese terms such as ‘Gemba’ or ‘Kaizen’ – all of which continue to mean very little to me. In fact for a long time I thought that perhaps Lean was a new fad that had replaced the 5:2 diet….At least that was the case until I undertook an in-house Lean training course at Altair, led by our in-house Lean Guru, Jo-Anne Morgan.
I now know that understanding ‘Lean’ doesn’t have to be the same as learning another language. Drawing on Jo-Anne’s knowledge and experience, I would like to debunk some commonly held pre-conceptions and myths about Lean.

Firstly, Lean certainly doesn’t stand for Less Employees Are Needed! Nor is it:

  • Only for manufacturing
  • A short-term cost reduction programme
  • A computer thing
  • Just about the process
  • A silver bullet

In fact, Lean is a methodology for achieving excellence in customer service, by eliminating waste and making sure the focus throughout the workplace remains on increasing value for customers.

Lean is not only for front line staff, but gives all employees the motivation, tools, knowledge and freedom to make major improvements to their daily work. It is a people-based approach that can deliver improvements right through the organisation.

As part of our work around Organisational Excellence, our team have adopted a Lean ‘whole system’ approach, encouraging continuous improvement. This aims to achieve Lean efficiencies (without the jargon!) by delivering against the following principles:

  • Focus on the customer and what they value
  • Understand the operational data, what your customers need and how you can respond to this
  • Define new processes to flow across functional / organisational interfaces
  • Engage all the organisation’s key stakeholders
  • Generate both short and long term improvements
  • Challenge and eliminate non value adding steps in a process
  • Deliver intensive interventions
  • Focus on understanding the purpose of all activities

Our Lean reviews always focus on what is important to the customer. At the end of the day, that is the most significant part of any business – delivering what the customer wants in an efficient and effective manner. We’ve used this approach with clients to review everything from repairs through to ASB and allocations processes, but equally the principles can be used when reviewing structures or even organisation culture.

Conducting Lean reviews does not have to be overcomplicated and unwieldy. Instead, by removing the waffle you are left with a simple common sense approach that can generate significant benefits.

For more information on how we can demystify Lean in your organisation please contact Jo-Anne Morgan on 07966 612592 or or Lucy Worrall on 07880 327 205 or