Strategy & Business Development

Strength-based Lean

By Henrik Kongsbak

Lean-thinking means to do more with less. Lean production is based on a constant effort to eliminate or reduce loss or waste in a production process. It is not just about the waste of resources, production-time or waste of time are equally important components of Lean production.

  • 68 % of companies are unsatisfied with their Lean-implementation after 1-2 years (CapGemini, 2010).

  • 76 % of companies estimate that “behavioral change” is the most important aspect of successfully implementing Lean (ACE, 2008).

  • 55 % of employees in the industrial sector believe that it's possible to increase productivity through a change in the work process, more education and better management (Redder, 2011).

  • 20 % of employees in the industrial sector describe having more than one hour of pure waste every day and points to inappropriate work processes as the primary cause (Danish publication Ugebladet A4, 2011).

The statistics speaks for themselves. Even though Lean represents a manufacturing philosophy and a system that can generate great value, it requires a successful implementation, where it is not just introduced as a production-system but also is embedded as behavior – often seen as an improvement-culture! As it turns out, it's more difficult to implement a culture than it is to implement a system. This is because we're speaking of two different sets of logic that must be handled differently.

How do you make Lean future-proof?

Companies should consider whether Lean in its traditional form is enough to make their production future-proof. With increased globalization, more unpredictability and much faster time of development, the world is changing dramatically.

Even though Lean creates great optimizational advantages, this can easily happen at the cost of the competences the company needs to be able to compete in the future. Lean is designed to streamline a reliable production, whereas the future production of the western societies is expected to become agile, flexible and innovative. This means that production must be able to compete on:

  • Quickly delivering new products onto the market.
  • Being able to scale a production up to a massive volume.
  • Being able to outsource production abroad.
  • Quickly react to shifting and unpredictable changes in the market.

This demands something new from the way we understand and manage production.

What is Strength-based Lean?

Strength-based Lean (SBL) is a philosophy – a way of thinking, a method and a range of tools for developing and optimizing your production. SBL is based on what works and what can be improved. It's a method that improved production and increases engagement, ownership and speed of development. Overall, Lean is about creating results through increased engagement and ownership, and it works on to levels:

  1. How do we create a burning desire within all employees to participate?
    The company must create a clear image of which goals they are working towards: we want to be in pole position, most wanted, best in class. All coworkers must be able to see themselves as part of this picture and they need to know that their position is important and indispensable to the organization and in achieving the goal.

  2. How do we promote ownership in the entire organization?
    When we speak of ownership, it's management’s job to step back ten paces and make room in so every coworker can take responsibility. This way the responsibility is distributed and management isn't holding all the cards. Focus on adjusted leadership differently. Instead of management striving to get ahead of everything, there must be room for ideas and for the employees to provide ideas on how to optimize and improve.

Strength-based Lean is developed in a collaboration between Danish institutions and The Danish Technological University, Novo Nordisk and Resonans, who are experimenting and developing a revised edition of Lean that addresses the above. The project integrates research, theory and practice within organizational theory, psychology, innovation and operations management.