The First Six Bricks to Lay in the House of Lean

By: Clint McCrystal - Training and Development Manager at LeanCor
As you can tell by the title of this article, I am going to be referring to the House of Lean.  The House of Lean is one of the many great metaphors used in Lean philosophy to describe the major tools and concepts.  All great metaphors take a subject that sounds daunting or complicated and allows us to relate said subject to something a little bit easier to comprehend.  Even though learning about lean fundamentals may have a stigma of being a huge ordeal, the feedback that usually comes from those individuals that start to learn about it is that it is closer to common sense than something on the “rocket science” spectrum.

Now any lean consultant worth their weight in kanban cards could spend hours breaking down the House of lean into all of its components, highlighting spot-on anecdotes and examples that illuminate all of the elements involved.  For the sake of this discussion, I would like us to take a more elementary view, and, like any great Lego artist, we’ll start building this thing from the ground up with the first few bricks.  We are going to focus on establishing the key pieces of the foundations of the House of Lean: Standardization and Stability.  And we are going to explore these lean fundamentals using common metaphors and clichés.  


Brick One –Get back in the saddle.

Analyze your organization’s current state.  Knowing what is actually happening in the workplace is the key to getting started.  This involves allocating yourself some Gemba time and having conversations with the other subject matter experts.  With respect to lean fundamental philosophy, fact-finding, process mapping and uncovering existing problems are all important parts of the process.  The only way to do this is to roll up your sleeps and start learning.  You need to have visibility to where you are so that you can later understand the difference between the current state and your desired future state.

Brick Two – Don’t shoot at a moving target.

Having a well-defined target is the first piece of the puzzle when seeking to establish stability with a process.  Ask yourself how it should run. What are the expected results or outputs?  It is crucial to set your standards in accordance with the needs of your customers.  Without good voice of customer, an organization is setting itself up for constant re-direction.  This curtails any possibility of setting good, agreed upon expectations which are critical for staying the course as Lean roadmap is followed.  Changing gears along the way leads to re-work and even more importantly, a big loss of momentum.  This can kill the morale from any progress to date.

Brick Three – Find people to jump on the bandwagon.

In order to move your organization into a more stable situation, you are going to need help.  First off, you need fellow team members and leaders to recognize the need/benefit with you so that they can partner in your efforts to seek improvement.  It really takes a lot for one person to effect change, and any attempt at that (especially from a management position) may just look like another corporate mandate.  Also, from an execution perspective, it takes a village to change the culture of an organization and seek the standardization that you wish to introduce as one of the lean fundamental changes to the way you do things.  You want your people on board because they will be the bridge to any sustainment plan on this journey.


Brick One – Learn the ropes. 

At this point, you have already gone to the Gemba to see what is happening.  It is time to translate that knowledge of the processes into some direction.  Think best practice.  Standardization, especially when it comes to establishing true Standard Work, challenges us to find the best way to do the work and put it in practice.  Use the knowledge of your team (we want to avoid our eighth waste of failing to engage people) to determine how the process should run and institute that as the official way across the organization.  This leads to learning and eventually to improvement.  And learning, as we all know, is fundamental to the lean cause.

Brick Two – Put all of your cards on the table.

Once the best practices are established for organization’s processes, it is time to take all of the learning and turn this into documented Standard Work.  The goal is to remove tribal knowledge and remove the inconsistent outputs that come from failures to follow our standard process.  Standard work instructions, or standard operating procedures, allow team members to be set up for success in their endeavors to support the organization.  These documents should contain information on the inputs, the procedures, the timing, the critical-to-quality checks and the outputs for the work that is being done.  This documentation can then act as the baseline for training and serve as the reference that your team members need.

Brick Three – Go back to the drawing board. 

The third building block in the standardization progression is problem solving.  We like to say that a problem is a deviation from our standard or target (which was set in the Stability section).  In order to utilize the standards that you put in place in accordance with lean fundamental principles, proper PDCA is required.  The Check-Adjust phases of the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust, challenges us to acknowledge the short-comings and opportunities of the standard processes and seek to make them better.  This goes hand-in-hand with the spirit of continuous improvement.

Any homeowner knows the importance of a good foundation under their house.  I knew one such homeowner that had a nice home that had several upgrades and renovations.  However, this home had foundation problems due to the age and soil composition underneath the floor.  When the homeowner looked to sell, they were met with little to no interest and high costs of shoring up that foundation.  No matter how nice the walls, roof and interior were, the value was sapped based on the lack of structural integrity…the threat of falling over was not worth the risk.

Now, it's likely that your organization does not deal with home building (maybe it does), but the message seems pretty clear: any organization that wishes to learn about and embrace lean needs to start with investing in a strong foundation.  Lean fundamentals demonstrate the importance of stability and standardization for anyone embarking on this journey.  Without a commitment to these principles and the associated building blocks for achieving them, any investment in the other lean tools and processes is a risky venture.  Without stability and standardization, Jidoka and Just-in-Time won’t be the only writing on the wall…

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Posted by Clint McCrystal

blog author

Training and Development Manager at LeanCor | I am an individual with many interests, and I like to leverage both my creative and analytical skills.

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