Going lean is the talk of the season. Almost all the big organizations are adopting lean practices; not only manufacturing but management. In this write-up I am going to discuss how HR as an organization’s function can help in lean transformation. A critically important issue in lean success, just now coming into clear view, is the relationship between the human resources (HR) function and lean transformation. It turns out that the HR function, even at its best, is often considered as only a passive supporter of lean transformation. At its worst, it is said to be a barrier to progress. There are two facets to the relationship between lean and HR. First, it is self-evident that the HR function—just like any other department in a company—needs to apply lean practices and principles toward process improvement in its own work. Second, the HR function needs to actively support and enforce lean transformation throughout the company. The HR function, by virtue of its interactions with virtually every part of a company, is actually in an ideal position to be a powerful ally in lean transformation, IF lean leaders make the effort to enlist its aid. Here we are discussing how HR makes a significant contribution to lean success with active support in several key areas.
What is Lean (concept)
Lean principles come from the Japanese manufacturing industry. The term was first coined by John Krafcik. From its inception Lean was considered as manufacturing tool but today lean has evolved from just a tool to a philosophy of success.
The core idea of Lean philosophy is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources. A lean organization understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. The ultimate goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste. To accomplish this, lean thinking changes the focus of management from optimizing separate technologies, assets, and vertical departments to optimizing the flow of products and services through entire value streams that flow horizontally across technologies, assets, and departments to customers. Eliminating waste along entire value streams, instead of at isolated points, creates processes that need less human effort, less space, less capital, and less time to make products and services at far less costs and with much fewer defects, compared with traditional business systems. Companies are able to respond to changing customer desires with high variety, high quality, low cost, and with very fast throughput times. Also, information management becomes much simpler and more accurate.
Lean for production and services
A popular misconception is that lean is suited only for manufacturing. Not true. Lean applies in every business and every process. It is not a tactic or a cost reduction program, but a way of thinking and acting for an entire organization. Businesses in all industries and services, including healthcare and governments, are using lean principles as the way they think and do. Many organizations choose not to use the word lean, but to label what they do as their own system, such as the Toyota Production System or the Danaher Business System. Why? To drive home the point that lean is not a program or short term cost reduction program, but the way the company operates. The word transformation or lean transformation is often used to characterize a company moving from an old way of thinking to lean thinking. It requires a complete transformation on how a company conducts business. This takes a long-term perspective and perseverance. The term "lean" was coined to describe Toyota's business during the late 1980s by a research team headed by Jim Womack.
Lean transformations think about three fundamental business issues that should guide the transformation of the entire organization:...