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Why we owe it to our children to build greener and Leaner businesses
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Why we owe it to our children to build greener and Leaner businesses

An Interview with Professor Pauline Found

Professor Pauline Found - Lean Expert

Pauline is the Head of Business Improvement Science & Lean; Programme Director of the MSc in Continuous Improvement in Public Services; Programme Director of the Professional Doctorate in Operational Excellence and Professor of Lean Operations Management at the University of Buckingham. Pauline’s book − Staying Lean: Thriving Not Just Surviving − won the Shingo Research and Professional Publication Prize in 2009.

1. In your book (Staying Lean) you discuss five key factors of Lean: Strategy and alignment, Leadership, Behaviour and Engagement, Processes; and Technology and Tools. Which of these areas presents the biggest challenges to businesses trying to be Lean, in your view?

I think that all of them, in their own way, present challenges, but mainly these come from the “under the waterline” categories of Strategy and Alignment, Leadership, Behaviour and Engagement.

Above the waterline you must make sure that your processes are both efficient and effective (for the industry you are in) and that you have the right technology and tools to support these. Under the waterline is mostly about people and getting that right can be more challenging, but also more satisfying. With Lean you are talking about a socio-technical system and all of these need to be aligned to sustain long-term.

2. In your career so far, could you talk about a project you’ve been particularly proud of?

I am not sure if I can think of one project but the things I am most proud of is seeing the students go on to achieve and do remarkable things. So my proudest moments are always sitting in Graduation ceremonies and thinking that I might have helped this moment in some way.

3. You recently presented at the Elect Lean Educators Conference on the topic of the environment, referencing a lot of Andrea Pampanelli’s work with GKN Driveline and GKN Aerospace. Environmental issues are clearly a subject close to your heart. Tell us a bit more about the greatest opportunities you see for big corporations to apply Lean practices to the advantage of our planet.

I really think that big corporations have a fantastic opportunity to take the lead here. Firstly, they can develop their own circular economy programmes and secondly, they can use all the investment they have made in Lean thinking to tackle environmental waste that is generated by them. Most importantly though I think they can take the lead in changing mind-sets and behaviours in everyone.

We all either work in big corporations or pass through them, such as shopping malls/city centres/stores or public services etc. If the corporations and governments took the environment seriously we would see clearly marked recycling facilities that were completely unambiguous everywhere in these. Staff who work in them would be educated and aware of what goes in what and could coach customers, staff members of the public to use the right ones. Not only would this help the local environment but would also help change habits and mind-sets that we would take home.

I think that most big corporations and public services have made an attempt to provide the right bins but often I think this is lip-service and compliance. They don’t follow this up with education and thinking of poke-yoke to make sure it is the right stuff in the right bin and they don’t teach staff to coach others if they see something wrong. In the end we just continue to deposit in the most likely, not the most environmentally conscious, way and we don’t change our habits and mind-sets. Hence the cycle of lip-service goes on.

4. You’ve talked about how taking a leaner, greener approach to business strategy not only benefits the environment but a company’s bottom line. Realistically, there will be initial costs and hurdles to overcome in order to get there. What would be your advice to companies put off by these challenges?

I think that this is the same as with any Lean transformation, start with the low-hanging fruit and then use the resources/capacity to tackle the more difficult challenges. Environmental waste is waste and, as Lean thinkers know, waste should be eliminated or reduced. Waste costs money to generate and reducing or eliminating waste can save cost. Cut the operational waste and use that money saved to invest in other environmental improvements that might require capital expenditure. The beauty of combining Lean and Green is that Lean thinkers are problem solvers and can bring that creativity to find long term solutions. Secondly, reducing the environmental impact is not, and should not, be thought of as an expense. It is a duty and a responsibility we owe to the future of the planet.

In a recent keynote session at the ELEC 2016 Conference, Pauline talked about Felix Finkbeiner, leader of the Children of the Plant-for-the-Planet Initiative, to highlight how little corporations are doing to address waste and environmental impact by comparison. Here is Felix addressing the UN in 2011 and calling on the children of the world to take their own action to combat carbon emissions through planting one million trees in every country. After just three years, one-million trees has been planted. Today, the global campaign continues with a goal of hitting 1 Billion trees by 2020.

5. You have highlighted, particularly in the case of the environment, that a key barrier to success when it comes to operating a Leaner business, is habit. What is the secret, do you think, to influencing true behavioural change when it comes to encouraging employees to adopt a Lean approach?

Make it easy – it is as simple as that. If you make it difficult then only the truly committed will do it. We should always think of making the alternative difficult.

6. From the interests and trends your see emerging from the students you teach, how do you see Operational Excellence evolving in the next five to ten years?

The biggest change I am seeing is the level of knowledge of the students (who are all practitioners). In the beginning of our MSc, we were the “experts” having learnt from Dan and his research in Toyota. We were researching how Lean could be applied outside of automotive and passing that knowledge on to the students. Today, though, the students that come on our course are all experienced in Lean, so we now learn from them and we are coaches and mentors, not teachers.

For the future though, I think that we will see a convergence. There will be a convergence in the way we run businesses and a convergence in “best practice” methodologies. Lean thinking, from the Staying Lean Iceberg model, cuts across operations, IT, HR and strategic leadership. Implicit in this is also includes Finance and Marketing. So functional departments should all be part of the Lean Enterprise and they will converge (but with specialisms in each). I think that the continuous improvement methodologies will also converge and, hopefully, stop arguing amongst themselves. So I would hope to see that all enterprises would take a systems approach but draw on Lean, Agile, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints to solve particular problems and achieve Operational (or Business) Excellence. So we need people who are both systems thinkers and have knowledge of the different approaches, tools and methodologies to apply to contemporary problems and obstacles.

As an Operations Management researcher I believe that OM needs to move beyond “management” and strive for “excellence” and I think this should start in schools and university undergraduate programmes where we need to stop teaching Lean as an emerging subject in OM and treat it as mainstream. I also think Industry 4.0 is going to have a huge impact over the next 5-10 years and that we are not really preparing young people for the challenges that this is going to present.

Industry 4.0 diagram
Industry 4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution that is linked to the ‘Internet of Things’ and creates what is called smart factory, smart cities, smart services etc through technology enabled processes and cloud computing. Image: © Christoph Roser at AllAboutLean.com.