INTERVIEW – This year’s UK Lean Summit promises to be the greatest yet. The icing on the cake? A gemba walk with Dan Jones and Jim Womack. Here we learn how the event is organized.
Interviewee: David Brunt, CEO, Lean Enterprise Academy – United Kingdom
Planet Lean: This year, the topic of the summit is "Lean Strategy and the Work of Management". Why this choice?
David Brunt: The majority of our attendees fall into three categories: senior leaders (CEOs or board members, for instance), line managers, and lean practitioners. Each group has different needs, but all are interested in how they can take their efforts to the next level and how lean can help them do that. Dan Jones co-authored The Lean Strategy with Michael Balle, Jacques Chaize and Orry Fiume last year. The book pushes the thinking about lean forward and all three of those audiences will get huge value from it.
We’ve done a lot of research into the work of management and leadership over the last few years. The Lean Enterprise Institute published Jim Lancaster’s book – The Work of Management – in 2017, which offers practical advice on how to help sustain and implement a lean management system. Many organizations still find this a challenge, so it definitely looks like the book has come out at the right time. I think this topic will particularly appeal to the lean practitioners, as it can inspire them to run some smaller-scale experiments around this area.
PL: Another year, another great line-up. How do you decide who to invite at the summit year after year?
DB: We have put a lot of time into developing the program. It’s not easy, but we do have a process in place. Dan and I discuss the theme at length, and the questions we think the Summit should answer. I have a big network that I call upon. I ask my contacts what they are working on and – more importantly – what they are struggling with. We compare that with the questions our co-learning partners (we conduct research with them) are posing. We strive to always come up with something relevant for the Community that will also challenge them.
My observation is that most events don’t have questions to answer. They just see who they can get along to speak, and this results in a hodgepodge of presentations without a theme, without a clear message, and without things that people can go back to their companies and try. In most conferences, I see that sessions tend to only focus on successes and typically appear to have something to sell. We believe that the main goal of running an event is not selling, but sharing lessons learned.
PL: There seems to be quite a big focus on product development this year, with presentations by Monica Rossi and Technip FMC. Why is it so important that companies start to bring lean to their R&D departments?
DB: We need to start spending time on this, because as much as 80% of a product’s cost is determined during the design phase. At the Lean Global Network, we are doing a lot of research in this area: Lean Enterprise Institute, for instance, has a partner program called (Lean Product and Process Development) that entails action-based research in new product development. TechnipFMC are part of the research and we at the Lean Enterprise Academy have been working with them in the UK (as part of a global collaboration that stretches to the US and Brazil.) It’s been a hotbed for learning for us, and I think the time has come for us to share what we have learned.
All lean practitioners should be thinking about this: the more they are involved in upstream processes, the more quality, delivery and cost can be impacted upon. As it often happens in lean thinking, some processes can be counterintuitive, and Monica has a fantastic set-based concurrent engineering serious game that brilliantly illustrates a superior approach to new product development.
PL: Speaking of cool new products, Morne Fourie from Halfway Toyota in Johannesburg will share how they are "ditching the spreadsheet". As the coach of the Halfway transformation, what can you tell us?
DB: This is the thing every lean thinker should want to know about. Company executives who are experimenting with Apps and other technologies are gaining an enormous competitive advantage, making the work more fun in the process. We are realizing that what we can do with technology is growing at a dramatic pace and that the threat of disruption is bigger than ever for organizations.
I introduced the Halfway guys to some work being done at Peugeot UK, where David Male and Mike Moore were improving processes by creating very simple Apps. Whenever you improve a process you need to also change the supporting information flows, but that’s a point at which people often become stuck because the underlying information system architecture isn’t easy to change. When they go to the IT department or an IT provider, they are then told it will take months and cost thousands to make the necessary changes. You only have to look at the number of pull implementations that run into the sand because the company can’t disconnect the ERP order system or because the projects that promise to deliver huge cost savings take months to be implemented and rarely meet management’s expectations as the costs of change requests spiral.
What we are showing (using the Halfway example) is a way to use cloud-based databases and applications that link information flows together to quickly and cheaply run experiments to improve information processing. Of course the business problem may be different in each case, but the aim of one of these experiments has been to dramatically improve the quality of information through a value stream and to compress all of the information processing so it occurs as part of the work. It’s a dramatic reconfiguration that goes even further than what can be achieved with a traditional material and information value stream map.
Mike Moore and David Male are conducting a pre-Summit workshop on this, as well as a keynote and breakout session at the Summit. They will provide attendees with practical tools they can use right away.
PL: What about the gemba walk at Toyota with Dan Jones and Jim Womack? That promises to be quite the experience!
DB: We designed a gemba day (the day after the Summit) in which the key topics covered at the event can be discussed in a real workplace: lean strategy and the work of management all the way to the front line. What better place to do this than Toyota? The folks at the Deeside engine plant and their Toyota Lean Management Centre (TLMC) are very good at explaining what they do, why they do it and how. Keith Edwards has come up with a programme that meets our purpose and attendees will have the chance to see and discuss the company’s strategy, the management system it relies upon, and how everything fits together at the plant. Add Jim Womack and Dan Jones into the mix, and you’ll get one of the best experiences anyone interested in lean could ever get. It will be inspirational.
PL: You are moving the summit to Manchester this year. Why did you make that decision?
DB: Aside from the obvious logistical reasons, Manchester has a long history of industry and innovation. It was in the city that Ford produced Model Ts using flow, at Trafford Park, and the computer was developed here. This year’s summit combines computer processing with flow, so Manchester seemed to be the perfect location.
Dave Brunt has been both applying and researching lean since 1990. He manages activities at the Lean Enterprise Academy and helps firms with their lean transformations. He has worked with Dan Jones since 1997. He has walked, mapped, taught and coached lean in over 500 value streams across several sectors.