From cutting costs to a leap in productivity

There are numerous ideas and practical tools that can help companies experience a leap in productivity. The concept of lean thinking that originated at Toyota provides companies with an excellent framework and model to take the leap. How can companies apply lean thinking in practice? Let's hear what the world-renowned expert in lean has to say – author, speaker and lean executive coach Michael Ballé. He visited Finland at the end of September to inspire Finnish companies to grow using lean thinking.

Lean thinking can produce considerable leaps in productivity. The idea is by no means new in Finland as many companies have launched ambitious lean projects over the past few years. It is regrettably rare that these projects have achieved any lasting results. Why is this?

"Lean does not mean cutting unnecessary costs and operations, but it is rather more a philosophy of leadership. Lean is a way of thinking, the only aim of which is to make the company as a whole more competent and its operations more fluent. This kind of company is also more creative and more competitive," says Ballé, giving an essence of the idea.

Lean is a CEO matter

It is not enough that the production manager leads efforts to streamline a company's operations. It is only when the CEO is converted to lean thinking that the company's culture can change. It is essential that the CEO understands that lean is, specifically, a tool for leading the entire organization.

Before entering the lean world, the company must assess its level of ambition. How high does it aim? There is no point in stepping onto the lean pathway without ambitious targets and a real desire to succeed. When operations are guided by the lean philosophy, the company embraces a culture that inspires people to constantly find better ways to do things.

"No company can become more productive unless the people are allowed to use their skills and work in more profitable ways," according to Ballé.

Higher productivity when the job is done better

Lean is not a traditional case of change management with defined starting and finishing points. It is a dynamic procedure where people improve their practices little by little every day. The practices will never be perfect but the coaching to develop skills is ongoing. The organization's ability to do business improves all the time.

A company that is applying lean thinking is agile and quickly able to respond to any changes in the environment. A lean company is not concerned about changes such as digitalization but integrates these into the organization as part of the continuous development process.

Lean forces people in organizations to consider the essentials: what is our aim, why do we do what we do and how could we do it better? When a development project progresses phase by phase and in a clearly defined and systematic way, the everyday tasks are easier to complete. The focus is on ensuring that employees' flow is not interrupted, which will create better results. It is all about simple, doable things.

Lean is not a model developed by consultants, one that would be applicable in all companies. It was first implemented at Toyota to improve the company's practices. Every organization must create their own lean practices and ways to implement the philosophy in their business.

"That is the genius of it; every company can follow lean practices if they want to," says Ballé.

Tiina Lifländer
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