Aspire2bLean Blog

Lean Consulting for Corporates and SME's.


Productivity – Don’t sweat the Easy Stuff

When we are looking at  Productivity, we have a tendency to approach the easy stuff first.  There is nothing wrong with getting  “Quick Wins” in any  Operational Excellence Programme, especially if you are trying to get traction in a new programme, by demonstrating the power of the system. However, there is a danger that we get ourselves into “Tick Box” mode, and we end up working through check lists. This means  that we delay tackling the big issues, as we think we are making progress. This is not surprising as humans have what are known as cognitive biases. These are psychological states that can affect our rational thought processes and our ability to look at data objectively. There are many documented biases ranging  from 15 to 20 in number. In this particular case we are talking about “Task Completion Bias”, which gives us the sense of  achievement when we view a 70% or similar complete  list. A recent two year study of 90,000 patients in the hospital emergency rooms, showed doctors not necessarily choosing the patients on the basis of the severity of their condition, which should be the primary focus. They were falling into this bias trap (HBR Paper – Task Selection & Workload)

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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.

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Lean in Retail


I stumbled across a great article about Aldi and their continued pursuit of Lean. The article makes it very clear that Lean is not just for manufacturing, and although Lean may have lost some profile over the last few years it still very much has resonance today. Some say that Aldi’s current success is down to its models and market positioning. That is true, but how did they get to that position ? Lean thinking and principles which are referenced in the article allow businesses to get to a competitive market position. All too often Lean is just perceived about removing unnecessary waste and cost, but effective Lean drives flexibility, adaptability and agility. These are the key elements that allow businesses to have a strong market position. The article also references how Aldi have engaged their workforce, to increase their Lean bandwidth and achieve even more. Aldi also multi-skill their workforce to allow maximum flexibility, alleviate boredom and improve overall effectiveness. This is exactly what the manufacturing sector have been doing for a couple of decades. With the pressure on the retail sector, and the relentless competition, one may think that the staff remuneration would be low. However, Aldi also pay above the average sector pay. These savings  allow Aldi to pay above market rates, and entice the most capable staff. They have an empowered and a motivated workforce to deliver on future improvements, and cost savings. The improvement cycle repeats itself. They will also be taking waste out of the all their administrative processes . A Lean mindset drives the removal of waste everywhere.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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