‘Which of our efforts are value-creating and which are wasteful?’ is the question at the heart of lean manufacturing. It is the first question any lean manufacturing trainee is taught to ask. Lean principles are derived from the Japanese manufacturing industry and are most famously promoted through Toyota. There principles are called The Toyota Way and The Toyota Production System. Key to these are the reduction of three types of waste: muda (虚無僧, non-value-adding work), muri (無理, overburden), and mura (斑, unevenness).
In the non-profit sector, we are resource-constrained and yet the problems we are tackling are immense, time-critical, and complex. Issues such as biodiversity loss, climate change, and plastic pollution are proving to be some of the most complex and intractable problems that the world has ever faced. Yet many of our projects and organisations that are working to address these problems are wrought with inefficiencies. It’s here that we could learn a lot from the manufacturing sector. By adopting the lean approach and reducing non-value adding work, overburden, and unevenness we could achieve more impact, with less resources and less stress. A question such as ‘which of our efforts are value-creating and which are wasteful?’ is one that we should be asking ourselves every single day.
Imagine if we started each meeting with this question? In fact, imagine if we asked this question before calling the meeting and instead asked the question ‘Is this meeting value-creating or wasteful?’ And then making a decision about whether to call the meeting at all. Imagine if instead of blindly following a project plan year after year and measuring if it came in on time and within budget - we regularly asked ourselves ‘Are these activities achieving the impact we originally assumed they would?’. And if the answer is ‘no’ - then changing the plan?
The problems facing our world need to be addressed today. If our four-year plan is not going to have the impact we had assumed - then it’s too late to learn that lesson in four years’ time. Let’s instead learn as we go along and create leaner, more impactful organisations and projects now - not at the end of our well-meaning, assumption-laden plans.
Here are two great videos highlighting the principles of The Toyota Way and what can be achieved through the lean approach.
The 14 Principles of The Toyota Way
Meals per Hour
Further reading: The Lean Startup: How constant innovation creates radically successful businesses by Eric Ries
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