To do lean requires doing the right thing, and doing things right. In that order, because, as Russell Ackoff observed, ‘the righter you do the wrong thing, the wronger you become’. Womack and Jones addressed this, obliquely perhaps, in their five Lean Principles of 1996. The five have certainly stood the test of time, but for me the big ones are value and flow. Value should mean doing the right thing: customer, purpose, and striving for perfection. Flow incorporates a deeper understanding of value stream, and pull is about steadily shifting the boundary between push and pull towards pull.

For both value and flow, for the ‘right thing’, a ‘True North’ vision needs to be established. With this, the direction and first few steps are established, even though future steps are unclear. As Stephen Covey says, ‘begin with the end in mind’.

True North value requires an understanding of long-term need, not short-term want. Holes, not drills. Think ideal future state: free, perfect, and now. Impossible? Maybe, but are we moving along those trajectories? Others are! True North flow requires an understanding of variation and utilisation: in short, mura and muri. Why? Because these are the determinants of flow. What can be done about understanding or adjusting arrival variation? As John Seddon observed while standing in a long queue at the airport, ‘They didn’t know we were coming!’ And what about process variation? Remember, as Justin Watts pointed out in an earlier LMJ article, a focus on process variation alone addresses only half of total variation.

Then there is utilisation. What we know is the highly non-linear relationship between utilisation and lead time, or queues in service (have you ever flown into Heathrow? Their runway utilization is 95%. What is your experience?). Utilisation is load divided by capacity. Certainly, you should give attention to ‘freeing up’ capacity through waste removal. That will increase capacity or decrease utilisation. But that again is only half the story. The other half is load –how much load – work coming onto your operation – should not be there at all? In other words, failure demand or rework – in factory or in office.

Now we have a picture of the ‘what’ to do in getting started (or continuing) with lean. But the ‘how’ is the big issue.

Perhaps a (the?) great law of managing behaviour and sustainability is ‘the norm of reciprocity’. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, said the Bible. By the way, ‘others’ includes future generations. And (again) from Covey, ‘Win, win or walk away’. There must be something in it for all. Or, as Toyota says in one word, ‘respect’. That applies from CEO to shop floor worker. From banker to Dean of the Faculty.