/A year in lean articles

A year in lean articles

The best lean articles of 2019

FEATURE – As 2019 draws to an end, our editor looks back at best lean articles of the year and tells us why Lean Thinking should give us hope for the future.

Words: Roberto Priolo, Managing Editor, Planet Lean

In case you haven’t noticed, the world is a mess. From bushfires in Australia to social unrest in Chile, from trade wars to horrific terror attacks, 2019 – and indeed the whole decade of the 2010s – is bound to leave us with a sense of apprehension (or downright fear) for what the future has in store for us.

We lean thinkers can find some comfort, however, in knowing that, at least in our community, people work tirelessly to make things better. (Just open a newspaper and you’ll see why this is something we should be grateful for!) Lean Thinking has its foundations in the principles of continuous improvement and respect for people, and our planet could use more of both right now. I believe that, elusive as it may be, this unique concoction of social and technical elements truly has the power to transform the world.

As unbridled capitalism starts to crack under the weight of growing inequality, we should all stand for an economy and, in general, a society that cares for all its members, without disowning the market principles that have brought prosperity to (many, not all) our countries. Going after profit alone has led us to the mess we are in today, and it’s about time we realized that things must change.

It is my firm belief that the Lean Community has a unique role to play in making the world a better place. For it to happen, however, we need to really embed Lean Thinking in the way our companies and societies operate. In other words, we need to think bigger.

What is the contribution that Lean Thinking can give to the development of a circular economy? What about the reduction of CO2 emissions? What can the Lean Community do to improve living standards in our growing cities? What can it teach us about disaster recovery (something that, sadly, we will need to engage in more and more in the future as climate change takes its toll)? As a community, we have already begun to tackle some of these problems, but other questions remain unanswered. In 2020, I intend to use Planet Lean to share the stories of those who are working to address these problems and to investigate how Lean Thinking can help to heal our society and our planet and make it a better place for all.

In the meanwhile, let me look back and highlight some of the best content we have published in the last 12 months of this decade.

If you are looking for an example of how Lean Thinking can change the world, you will appreciate Josh Howell’s call to arms for those who want to transform the food industry. And, by the way, this lofty goal necessarily starts with leaning out agriculture and it is good to see more and more experiments in this field (pun intended).

In 2019, Planet Lean featured a total of 107 articles, covering applications of Lean Thinking in pretty much every sector of the economy. We have come across incredible stories of resilience, like that of Deutz Spain, which makes engines for its German client (located some 2,000 kilometers away) and relies on lean to stay efficient and maintain its competitive advantage. Resilience is also tied to our ability to flexibly adapt to changing customer needs, as this company near Barcelona knows all too well. In this article, they tell us about their efforts to apply lean to their new product development process (LPPD). Adaptation and the ongoing ability to deliver value to customers in a market that changes at the speed of light is also at the heart of the newly-introduced Toyota Flow System.

This year, PL has also featured some great examples of how lean principles are helping healthcare organizations around the world provide better care to some of the most vulnerable people in our societies. This hospital group in Ireland, for example, has introduced a dedicated pathway for older, frail patients. Another example is an Italian hospital in Genoa (in my home region, which makes me real proud!), which has redesigned its oncology department with lean principles in mind. I can’t forget the lean experience of the Emergency Medical Services in Cape Town, whose work helps people in some of the city’s most dangerous areas.

A message that seems to appear over and over again is the fact that there is immense power in people coming together and rallying around a common purpose. Indeed, improvement goes further when it is a concerted effort that involves different players along the supply chain, as this story from the Netherlands showed us.

Over the past 12 months, we have featured some of the best lean thinkers the Lean Global Network has to offer, including Karen Gaudet from the Lean Enterprise Institute (with her invaluable advice on the role of management in ensuring the success of a lean transformation), Severino Abad from Spain’s Instituto Lean Management (who has provided incredible insights in his series on the most common mistakes we commit when using lean tools) and Sharon Visser from Botswana (we can always count on her to provide an interesting perspective or original metaphor on Lean Thinking, often infused with African elements). We have of course had our usual suspects, too, like Catherine Chabiron with her great series Notes from the gemba. My favorite is the account of her gemba walk at Paris’ Orly Airport (read about it here).

The biggest topic of the year has perhaps been lean learning. As a theme, it may sound a bit general at first, but it is worth remembering that without learning there can be no improvement. It makes sense, then, that Planet Lean has focused heavily on this topic in 2019 – in its many aspects. Dave Brunt, of the Lean Enterprise Academy, for example, has carried out a lot of research in this field. In this piece, he discusses how the world of lean and the world of education can support one another. In his article, Dave talks about “life-long learning”, which is very much what Toyota strives to achieve with its employees – as Yian Baty and Martyn Hayward from Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK explain in this interview.

But what about lean more strictly applied to the world of education? It’s great to see more and more schools around the world embracing lean principles and practice to the benefit of students as well as teachers (reducing the amount of work teachers need to carry out means they will be able to focus more on the value-creating activity of teaching students, like this school in Holland has discovered). In another article, Tony Lamberton shares the pioneering efforts of the first lean school in the UK. And if you think lean in education only applies to elementary schools, think again: in this interesting read, Dr Jack Billi tells us how he uses A3 Thinking to teach medical students and develop their ability to think critically – a skill that will accompany them throughout their careers. Indeed, we can look at Lean Thinking more holistically, as an educational system – like Sandrine Olivencia does here – that allows us to learn every day by challenging our assumptions. Another reminder (I share it with you every year, I know, but one cannot stress it enough): learning from one another is still the single most powerful way to advance our lean transformations, as this chain of hotels in Tenerife knows.

As we bid farewell to this decade and take our first, weary steps into a new one, let us not forget that we have a very powerful weapon at our disposal: a management system that can transform us into life-long leaners, that can teach us to solve problems and adapt to changing circumstances, that can dramatically improve the work (and, why not, help us to find it) and create good jobs. I don’t know about you, but this makes me feel a whole lot better already. In another very popular article, Michael Ballé, Daryl Powell and Kodo Yokozawa introduced the concept of kotozukuri, the passion to make things happen. I’d like to end the year on this note: let’s renew our passion for Lean Thinking, let’s inject it into our every-day life and let’s “kotozukuri” to heck out of our mission to change the world.

PS: I would like to thank you for sticking with Planet Lean for another year. I hope you have found our content of help, and I look forward to another year together. See you in 2020!


Roberto Priolo photo

Roberto Priolo is the Managing Editor of Planet Lean.