Why ‘Lean Coaching’?

I founded Lean Coaching in June 2002, to do what it ‘says on the tin’, coach in Lean.

After years of consulting, culminating in 4 years at McKinsey & Co., it was clear to me that what most companies which are engaged in Operations needed, was a sustained improvement process based on the philosophy and principles of the Toyota Production System (TPS), also called Lean.

The initial challenge and the distinctiveness of the McKinsey Manufacturing Practice (MMP) was, and it still is, to adapt or design ‘Production Systems’ to suit various industries and environments (from traditional manufacturing (high volume and single-piece), capital equipment and process industries (including oil, gas and pharmaceuticals) to hospitals and banks).

My frustration was, even after thorough analysis, systems (re-)designing with adaptation of tools and specific implementation plans, all developed with the involvement and ‘buy-in’ from the varying organisations, these systems invariably floundered and failed to live up to full potential despite enormous financial and other benefits being fully supported by the board/top management.

My mentor at the time, Peter Willats, introduced me to the equation: R=PxC, where the Realisable potential equals the (full/financial) Potential, times the Capability of the organisation – i.e. even when there is an abundance of potential, the collective capability of the organisation (Management) is usually the limiting factor!

The recognition of this truth, together with the more in-depth acquaintance with the approach used by Toyota when setting up ‘trans-plants’ (copying the mother plants’ systems into new plants), gradually re-focused my attention from the ‘what’ (the tools) to implement, to the ‘how’ to implement.

When, in the early ’90s, Toyota were in the process of ramping-up Burnaston and Deeside in the U.K., they sent in an ‘army’ of trainers and coordinators from Toyota in Japan. The so-called Sensei’s carried out 1:1 coaching for all management levels from Supervisors (Group Leaders) to General Managers.

In general, the way of starting the capability building (learning muscle) was to:

1) Visualise performance, using Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) with clear targets and transparency of  ‘gaps’ to targets.

2) Carry out Structured Problem solving of the ‘gaps’ at ever increasing speed and depth/complexity.

3) Rigorous implementation of countermeasures and continuous improvement process, via Kaizens (small/local), Jishukens (larger/extended) and via standards, using Standard Work Instructions (SWIs), Job Instruction training and process confirmation.

Based on the visualised performance, these (initially 150 external coaches) would ‘tug at the sleeves’ of the coachee, enquiring into their Thinking Way in day-to-day situations. This was not only the best way of organically building a Learning Organisation, but the specific countermeasures (tools and methods) were adapted to the circumstances and, most importantly, owned by the organisation.

After listening to numerous first-hand accounts of the process, it became obvious that ‘Coaching’ was the real secret in the art of capability building and the critical factor in Change Management.

It was clear that, in fact, most of the principles and benefits of Coaching were well-known outside the Lean world – (as seen in Coaching for Performance by John Whitmore). The simple fact that this was ‘tried and tested’ by Toyota, as the best way of implementing TPS, made it the logical approach to replicate, in order to implement Lean in the multitude of Operations that had either not yet started or had not yet been successful in their Lean Journey.

Hence, Lean is the most powerful approach in improving Operations and Coaching is how Toyota implements TPS/Lean – Eureka!

Gert Haar-Jorgensen, Founder and Managing Director of Lean Coaching