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Successful implementation of Lean into the organisation

Today’s challenges

In this very dynamic industry of travel and hospitality, the usual challenges always persist: new markets, increased demand for travel services, rising customer expectations, changing business models and cycles of innovation that just get quicker each year. Therefore we continually need to think how we can reduce inefficiency, and how we can enhance our effectiveness. And this is where lean thinking comes in – Lean is about centring all thoughts and actions on the customer and his demands.

If the customer reports an incident, he or she has experienced a loss of value to what was paid for. All incident management processes therefore need to be activities to restore customer value. Such activities do not create new customer value, and so can be considered as ‘waste’. Yet if the focus is kept not just on redressing the individual incident, but also on avoiding repetitions of the same incident in future, the durable value added to customers in general will far exceed that made up to the single disappointed customer in a particular incident. This is why, with lean, one spends time and a fair amount of money rooting out the causes of each and every incident.

Mindset shift

This approach requires a fundamental shift in our mind set. It requires us to build a culture that understands and responds to our customers’ increasingly complex and changing needs.

Nothing will happen though if one does not provide a plan and framework to successfully implement Lean into the organization.

The goal of lean is to eliminate the steps that the customer is not willing to pay for, and at the same time can be eliminated from the process without affecting the end product or service. However it relies heavily on identifying what is valuable to the customer.

The implementation

Step 1 Envisioning

There must be a commitment from management and/or company owner to provide financial support to the program, and to lead the charge in the culture change.

Step 2 Strategizing

This stage requires the formation of the team and structure that will roll out the Lean program. This will also involve training of all employees on the principles of Lean, and how they apply to their particular positions in the organization. One may seek to hire a specialist that has had extensive experience in a Lean organization to facilitate this process.

Step 3 Developing

Value stream mapping is a preferred tool used to identify wasteful or unnecessary steps in a process. This mapping process is usually done in a group setting with those who are familiar with the process that is to be analysed.

Step 4 Implementing

Here we get some selected projects running and begin to create an environment in which the principles of Lean are included into the everyday operation. All levels of employees are involved in the execution of these projects, and everyone has equal input in providing feedback on how to improve processes. No more than 10 projects should be launched during this initial phase.

Step 5 Improving

The success of the program is analysed. Management together with a Lean specialist who is objective to the process will determine if the projects have been successful in making the operation more efficient and if a culture change is occurring – it must also develop a plan to overcome team members who has been reluctant to buy in to the program and perhaps appoint new employees in the infrastructure.

Step 6 Sustaining

This is where we maintain the successes of the program and overcome the failures. The positives of the program should be celebrated and communicated to all levels of staff. Employees who have refused to have embraced the program will have to be addressed at this time.

Getting the buy in

Failures often occur when there is a general misunderstanding in the organisation of how to acquire the lean process. It is therefore key that whoever is appointed as a lean agent or specialist to the organisation should incorporate different ways to interact and exchange information between people from different departments, to engage all the people in the organization and to narrow down the number of possible interpretations. The objective is to strive for a coordinated action. Cultural and resistance issues have to be dealt and addressed during the early lean journey.

The question then is – are we focusing on creating harmony or striving for a creative tension that drives everyone to implement lean?

Of course within a change programme, it is essential to remove any feeling of fear and anxiety in order to obtain the trust needed. There are few necessary roles for being a successful change agent. Schein (1997) indicated the role as being supportive, dealing with the realism of the situation, accepting lack of knowledge and seeing change as an intervention. It further requires offering support and recognizing problems belong to them. One should not be prescriptive and learn from each intervention – involving people in the problem and looking for a resolution together is naturally the desired way to go about things.

However leadership must come first and demand as improvement otherwise will simply stop. If people prefer not to be on board, there is usually a reason behind it that needs to be surfaced. The question of “Is everyone ok with where we are going?” should be asked in order to surface questions or concerns that can be resolved soonest as possible. After that, firm and clear commitments should be obtained and an action plan to be agreed on – always highlight the value created by these conversations to everyone involved, it is a powerful appreciation tool!

Lean is a very dynamic way forward to keep up with the volume and sophistication of arising challenges and reduce the inefficiencies and wobbles that will otherwise accumulate with these change processes.