Aspire2bLean Blog

Lean Consulting for Corporates and SME's.


Lean is Alive & Kicking

Some commentators have said that “Lean” has had it’s day, with the majority of western manufacturers, and those in the developing world, having run lean and similar programmes. These programmes show up under other guises such as “Production Systems” and “Operational Excellence”. However the fundamentals of these are founded in Lean . Lean has always been about continuous improvement and development.

“Lean2” is firmly here,  because some programmes are failing and have failed. This has happened for numerous reasons, such as lack of drive, passion, energy, significant business restructuring or just turnover of key leaders. Global instability is creating a renewed business need, and the smart companies are engaging in programmes. We are seeing an upturn in demand. In these cases it is not just about the tools or specific approaches, but the “Lean Mindset”. It was ever thus, but some companies never really grasped this. The mindset is about hunting waste and transforming culture in a way that enables this to happen. This is where EI plays a significant part in the improvement, and those who can coach as well as consult have a significant advantage. We are seeing more and more referrals for these specific skills. In our view this will increase exponentially, as global and regional uncertainty increases. It is critical to get inside the heads of those who can make a difference at the execution level, and also support those leaders and “influencers” who have a passion for change.

Fundamentally it is simple. It is about improved processes, behavioural shifts and a passion for change. Those organisations who grasp this will win.

Electoral Jitters


As we get closer to a UK election there is a lot on peoples minds. The “snap” election has postponed slightly the “Brexit” discussions /negotiations. However, whatever the outcome of the election, because both the main parties have vowed to see “Brexit” through, business will have to be leaner and fitter than ever before. I have talked about speeding up the decision making processes before. Not only do businesses need to get their act together in their own facilities, they also need to look at the supply chain, and ensure they are protected without interruptions.

If their are opportunities to bring facilities back into the UK to both shorten the supply chain, and to mitigate against higher potential costs abroad (exchange rates), government funding may also available to support this process. Match funds are available through the LEPS (Local Enterprise Partnerships ) . Furthermore the Manufacturing Growth Programme has been initiated recently, similar to the old MAS, which provides the opportunity for qualifying companies to get significant rebates for associated tranches of consultancy, similar to the services we offer.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, governments also need to get smarter, such as removing unnecessary bureaucracy , that allows companies to make investments, purchase land, and also have the correct infrastructure in place to expand. A “Lean” mindset is critical for delivering on this. A leaner business does not just have lower operating costs and working capital, but it will be more agile in the market with a greater chance of surviving the turbulent times.

If you are interested in support, please take a look at our moving forward page and contact us.

Connecting “Waste”

I thought that this picture is an excellent illustration of how different operational wastes are “Linked” together. The four key physical wastes in any operating business are “Process”, “Energy”, “Effluent”, and “Transactions”. These are not mutually exclusive. If you have process waste, i.e. inefficiencies in making your product, you are likely to be using more energy than you absolutely need, and creating unnecessary effluent in the form of defects or recycles. Underpinning all this, will be a management process or transaction that is driving the others. This is is how they are all linked, and another justification for  more simplification. If we look at the four electrical plugs we can see how these could represent the four wastes, and the totaliser above indicating that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. We can use this as a means of showing our teams to challenge “Waste” as a means of reducing costs and driving a sustainable business. This “Lean Mindset” is the way we get staff to act as “Waste Hunters” rather than just Process Engineers and Statisticians.

Artificial Intelligence

There was an interesting point of view from Daniel Dennett (Philosopher) on BBC Newsnight last night on AI. Computers are getting faster and smarter, but are we truly building AI, with more clever algorithms. His view was that we are creating “Super Tools”, which is an interesting perspective. With all the buzz around IOTIOE at the moment, we are getting more efficient and better connected. This is of course is a classic “Lean” , i.e. reducing waiting time, defects, motion etc. However a powerful tool is only as good as the person using it or driving it. This was in part Daniels’ point. In any system or approach it is important that all those affected by it, or affect it, (guardians) fully understand the scope and purpose of  the system or approach. One could argue that in a fast moving approach that in a fast moving environment, critical understanding of these parameters could hamper progress. However, I would argue that when systems start to become self driving or perpetuating, that also generates unnecessary waste, and its corollary a lack of understanding. Furthermore we all  have already experienced the wastage of unnecessary complexity, and the confusion it can bring.  Interesting times ahead as we don’t want to hamper technological innovation, but make sure that we don’t generate waste in the process of trying to remove it.

Taking “Waste” out of Administrative Processes

There has considerable focus on “Manufacturing” processes in the context of “Lean” & “Waste”. When people have time to think, they realise there is real “Waste” in all of the administrative processes. This is sometimes forgotten. If we start to think about some of the huge financial decisions that are taken daily by governments and corporations, these all have complex processes and analytics that sit behind them. The impacts of failures or defects can run into billions. The concept of the “8 wastes” has been well established for manufacturing and engineering for decades. We can start to think about applying these “challenges” or concepts to administration. As an example, “Defects” ( 8 Waste #1) can apply in an administration process. This can be as simple as a miss typed letter or fax, and adding or removing a zero to a deal can have an enormous impact. Even if this is caught before it is too late, there has been a delay in the process, which in itself can have a financial impact. This is in addition to the time associated with getting it corrected. Every error has a waste, a touch point by an individual, and a multiplier associated with all those involved.  Data in a recent CNBC article suggests that spreadsheet errors can cost billions. This is a huge opportunity for standardisation, which is one of the cornerstones of “Lean Thinking”. Furthermore, delayed or inefficient decision making can cost vast sums of money. This is another opportunity for a lean approach. Poor decision making processes usually encompass at least seven of the eight wastes, if not all of them. Think of the “Waiting Time” ( 8 Waste #3), and how that has a huge negative effect on the decision making process.  However, help is at hand. By following lean principles/approaches and working on the “Waste Free” mindset, these associated losses can be significantly reduced or eliminated. We managed to significantly improve the decision making processes on multi-million CAPEX expenditures for a major UKR conglomerate back in 2014 with a lean approach. Decisions were taken more rapidly, and unnecessary recycles avoided.

I refer to my recent blog post on decision making in the post “Brexit” environment, the opportunities for better and more sustainable results through effective decision making are immense.

Lean & Climate Change

I recently attended a webinar run by the I.Chem.E. on and the following climate change initiatives post COP22. It finally looks like the engineering institutions are coming together as one, and working with politicians, technologists. This is a critical step in the process as engineers make it happen. There was a lot of debate about carbon credits, and  fossil fuel subsidies. Although there is a lot of drive from environmentalists and believers in the political arena, history has shown that significant change ultimately happens when businesses understand the need and buy into it. As one participant mentioned this happened with the behavioural safety culture 30 years ago. Businesses will buy into it, when they see a need for it to sustain their operations. This is where engineers can really get traction, as they are the ones that make things happen at the sharp end. Furthermore, engineers, technologists and operations managers who have a “Lean” mindset will really make it happen. Lean thinking is fundamental to business improvement and long term sustainability. By eliminating “Process” and “Transactional” waste, this saving money alternative forms of low carbon energy can be utilised. The more that low carbon energy is used, the greater the economies of scale, and the greater the long term returns.