Lean In or Lean Out?

Most of the Lean literature is about heroic efforts to reduce waste and process inefficiencies at large (and small) complex operations. With the exception of the Lean Startup / Agile movement, much less is focused on building businesses and companies with Lean thinking.

Even in large corporations, once you leave the factories new innovations, product lines, sales approaches and market units get launched on top of old thinking and processes. Some of these initiatives fail for that very reason, the traditional operation or performance engine does not allow for a more agile business model and most initiatives are under-staffed and under-resourced so they cannot produce the wasteful staffing levels and process complexities the old model requires.

I’m a big fan of the ‘starving startup’ model in big companies and have run many of them. Customer facing initiatives in sales and services should start with a blank business model canvas (or Lean Canvas) and design/iterate a lean process.
The main advantage is that it is unlikely that complex, overburdened and wasteful processes and cost structures will result. The side benefit is that the company will create lean thinkers, leaders and entrepreneurs that can tackle the harder challenges of leaning out the core. But now, they have organizational proof and credibility. Which in most corporate programs is the lion share of the battle.

Kaizen workshops may start resembling more of the pivot/sprint retrospectives of Agile and Kanban Method than traditional incremental improvements of an established process. Eventually in a big corporation the two approaches will meet in the middle as corporate startups and initiatives grow up, get overfunded, over-resourced and complacent. But by then our lean startup leaders, thinkers and builders in the team are ready…

(c) 2012 – Sacha Chua – (under Creative Commons Canada 2.5)

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