- Finnish leaders want to see concrete results, and, in the beginning, I was also somewhat sceptical about what Lean philosophy was all about. Finally, the results spoke for themselves, says Lean coach Heikki Pöri, describing his first encounter with Lean.
Heikki Pöri got a chance to get acquainted with the Lean philosophy in practice in the early 2000s, when he was working as Managing Director of Toyota Finance in Finland. Originally, the Lean philosophy was the internal code of conduct used by Toyota, which contributed to how the company developed into the world’s leading car manufacturer.
– In the 2000s, Toyota began to spread Lean – or the Kaizen culture as it is called at Toyota – from one production environment to the next worldwide through its finance companies in particular,” Pöri says.
– I was lucky, since I had a chance to follow the implementation of this change from within the company. The results achieved with Lean were clear: both employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction, as well as productivity increased.
During his 27-year career at Toyota, Heikki Pöri joined the activities of the Lean Association of Finland, and that gave him an opportunity to get to see how Lean was used in other organisations. At the same time, he also gave speeches about Lean himself. Finally, in 2014 he established his own company and became a Lean coach himself. Since then, he has been coaching organisations in such sectors as social services and health care to develop their own operations through Lean methods.
Personnel competence to good use
Lean philosophy is based on two main principles. Firstly, it aims at a continuous flow of customer value, which means that the added value gained by the customer is being kept in mind in every process within the organisation at all times. Efforts are made to eliminate all wasteful work practices, or work that does not produce customer value. Another principle is the ambition to produce as high quality as possible.
A classic example of the Lean philosophy tells about two different health care customers. In the first case, a patient first visits the health centre, the next week he visits the laboratory, and at last he meets the physician and finally hears his diagnosis. In the second case, a patient gets all the same things taken care of during one visit. The first example focuses on resource efficiency, and the second one on as fast flow through the service path as possible in compliance with the Lean philosophy.
In the Lean philosophy, actions are steered by the values that stand above the principles. The Lean values include continuous improvement in such a manner that the personnel is included in the process, as well as respect for personnel and customers.
– One of the prejudices I often encounter, when lecturing about Lean, is that it would be about making operations more efficient in a way where additional efficiency is made on the backs of employees, Heikki Pöri describes.
– But one of the Lean values is expressly including the personnel in the development process, and they thus have an opportunity to influence the operations. In many cases, the executive level is where the expertise is found, and often this expertise is not tapped to a sufficient extent.
According to Pöri, another common prejudice is that the key value of Lean would be saving of costs. In reality, the express intention in Lean is to make things better, and if the goal is reached, that often brings cost savings.
“Lean is about teaching learning”
According to Heikki Pöri's experience, successful application of the Lean philosophy in an organisation sets new kind of requirements on the management and supervisors. According to him, Lean leadership differs from traditional hierarchical leadership in that Lean puts special emphasis on coaching.
– The most important task of the supervisors and management is to develop their subordinates and their problem-solving skills in particular. In fact, Lean is about teaching learning, Pöri summarises.
At workplaces, there are many things people do not challenge to a sufficient extent; things are done in the same way as they have always been done, instead of thinking what would be the alternative way. However, the culture of testing, where people learn better ways of doing things through trial and error, is an essential part of Lean.
– Often during Lean coaching sessions people experience moments of clarity, when they are told concrete examples of a totally different environment. They wake up to the idea that “this is exactly what we are doing as well”, says Pöri.
– Another matter that evokes moments of revelation is when processes are viewed from the customer's point of view.
The customer is at the core of Lean philosophy. For finding the customer's point of view, firstly, it is important that the organisation’s vision has been communicated clearly to the every member of the staff: what is the purpose of the organisation and who does the organisation serve. Secondly, the organisation must have put in place indicators that serve the customer's point of view.
– Lean indicators differ from those traditionally used in business activities, which include such factors as net sales, operating margin, sales margin and capacity utilisation rate, Heikki Pöri lists.
– From the customer's point of view, important indicators may include service lead-time, stock turnover rate, customer satisfaction, personnel satisfaction and number of absences due to sickness. When the right indicators are monitored, and these are included as part of everyday leadership, the focus of operations will also be on the right matters.
Heikki Pöri's theses for Lean managers:
1. Show the direction where the organisation is aiming at
2. Include employees in the development process; give them responsibility and power in decision-making
3. Lead the operations in accordance with the right indicators
4. Remember the customer’s point of view
– At Laurea, Lean has been raised as one of the development projects of inner strategy. The Lean Laurea project began after the Master's programme pilot implemented in autumn 2015 with the training of the management team and supervisors, says Development Manager Elina Flemming, who heads the Lean Laurea project.
– The pilot case for Master's programme students was implemented in collaboration with external Lean experts.
The project was launched in a more extensive scale in early autumn. First, the opening seminar of the academic year included an hour-long introduction to Lean. After this, in September-October, four training events with similar content were held for the entire university of applied sciences staff by Lean coach Heikki Pöri. The training events have produced a vast amount of ideas and a number of identified areas in need of development. These were collected from the personnel during the events with the help of an iPad application.
– The next step was the two-stage Kaizen Champion training that began in October. For that purpose, we have sought volunteers from different parts of our organisation who will be trained as support persons. They will provide assistance for solving everyday problems in teams, applying Lean methods, Development Manager Elina Flemming continues.
The principle of continuous improvement that is the core of the Lean philosophy is already built into the Laurea2020 strategy. Therefore, the purpose of the Lean Laurea project is that Lean methods would provide additional tools for taking advantage of the Plan-Do-Check-Act circle of continuous improvement.
– The aim of continuous improvement is to produce better value for our customers, make our everyday work run smoother, and enhance the process flow, Elina Flemming notes.
– In today's world, our resources will not be increasing, so we will need to come up with more innovative ways of operating. The most important resource in this development work is our own personnel – they are the best experts to develop their own work and working environment, she continues.
Knowledge of the Lean methods is an important part of the competence of both the Laurea staff and the students graduating from Laurea. In addition to the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS), many other Laurea partner organisations, such as the cities of Espoo and Vantaa, are also applying the Lean philosophy in their operations.
– I don't know any other higher education institution in Finland that would have made as strong commitment to Lean objectives as we have in Laurea, although the world of education elsewhere is also waking up to the opportunities offered by Lean for the development of their activities, Flemming says.
– In this respect, we are in for something new throughout the field of higher education.