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  • Writer's pictureBill Greider

Lean is a Growth Strategy (not merely "eliminating waste")

I like to think back to a day I gave a tour through our company to a group of legislators and even the lieutenant governor. I wish my Mom could have seen me that day.

The place was spotless and our team members shined, explaining their 5S and the Kanban. Gorgeous, crisp, spring New England day. Our guests marveled at our gym and indoor basketball hoops. We had just been selected as one of the "best companies to work" in the state. Everything was going hunky dory until I ruined it. At some point late in the tour, one of our lawmakers asked me a simple question. "Mr. Greider, how many jobs have you and your lean thing created here?"

You see, legislators absolutely live for job creation. The more jobs that get "created" means more votes and yet another term. As I considered my answer, it felt like the group was leaning in with a hand on their ear, salivating with anticipation. Then it came out. "Zero". "Zilch". "None". "Zip". "Nada". "Nil". Ear to ear smiles and grins turned into a few long faces. So much for the stupid lean thing. Went over like a lead balloon.

My "lean thing" was really a business strategy to grow our business WITHOUT throwing people at waste or spikes in demand, which we had done for 10 years prior. Over a 3 year period, there was an 80% growth in sales without adding even one extra person. (think about how much more prosperity there was to share with everyone). Simply put, the goal is to do much, much more with the same resources WITHOUT overburden. Most (experts say >90%) of our processes are non value-added activity. The fun part is that a small percentage is visible with the naked eye. The rest is easily visible using lean tools like value stream mapping, SMED, andon, etc.

As a business, what is our #1 expense (investment)? People! Pinky swear today that you will work steadily to truly engage and develop every single person (and family) you are responsible for right now. Do kaizen activity using A3 involving every single person, and measure your improvement daily by making your productivity measure ($ shipped\hour worked) a dashboard metric. Simply go about the work of cutting the time it takes to do all of the hundreds of processes in your business by involving the people who actually DO the processes.

That, my friends, is the real simple lean growth strategy. If you want results others don't get, you need to be willing to do things others won't do.

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