Lean

Why Lean Earth?

It is not necessary to change.
Survival is not mandatory.
                        ― W. Edwards Deming
Our systems and collective behaviours are a source of planetary degradation and in need of rapid change. Having narrowed our margins for error, we are now in a position where we need to make changes and get them right the first time. There is urgent need to develop and rapidly communicate new competencies to shift society onto a more sustainable path. So where do we find methods to achieve this swiftly and effectively?

There are lessons to be learned from Toyota’s renowned business philosophy which is characterized by the term ‘Lean’. The term implies efficiency; however, it more accurately reflects that their system is highly effective in its goals - delivering exceptional results with the least waste. 

Toyota is effective at developing people to produce quality products at significantly lower cost and with less waste than its competitors. Their philosophy and methods are where we find opportunities for sustainability. Let's take a look at some of their cultural proficiencies for eliminating waste in knowledge work that we can borrow and scale to accelerate sustainability within organizations.

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Critical techniques
Often misunderstood and mis-characterized as a management system, Lean is first and foremost a learning system for developing people. This blog will explore how these systematic approaches can advance sustainability while eliminating wasteful activities. Critical techniques include fast learning cycles, knowledge capture for reuse, and decision-optimization.

  • Fast learning cycles via problem-solving. Sustainability can be a confusing landscape where steps forward are difficult to see. Every sustainability challenge is an opportunity to collaborate and learn in real-world situations. However, without a structured approach, learning is lost, and energy, effort, and resources will be wasted on rework. Correcting our many unsustainable cultural practices is our chance to build new competencies. (See Mike Rother's Toyota Kata for an adaptive, contextually-tuned learning approach.)

  • Knowledge capture for reuse. It is one thing to learn and yet another to convert knowledge gained into shareable guidance for others. This means visual guidance, job-aids, best practices, and standard work which include rationales so that people understand why things are now being done differently. Translating new knowledge into easily understood guidance for others is essential to building sustainable organizations.


Developing People
Together these are the essence of a continuous improvement system providing people the means and confidence to move toward a sustainable future. Fully evolved, Lean is an empowering, contextually aware learning system for achieving goals with the least wasted effort.  

In the early stages of organizational sustainability, solving problems and codifying the resulting knowledge for sharing and application are essential. Every major business decision must be duly considered for its sustainability implications.

So, why Lean Earth?
Ultimately, we need to manage ourselves within the limits of our abundantly productive planet which must provide for all species. We must draw upon the provisioning capacity of Earth within its capacity to provide. It seems counterintuitive, but we can look to a car manufacturer as our model for the means to effective, sustainable outcomes for organizations.

The Lean Earth blog will provide details on how you can apply simple mechanisms to make sustainability work within your organization. Thanks for your interest and I welcome your comments.
True certainty and confidence
do not lie in preconceived implementation steps or solutions,
which may or may not work as intended,
but in understanding the logic and method
for how to proceed through unclear territory.
                                                                               ― Mike Rother, Toyota Kata

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Jim Banks

Jim is a Sustainability Advisor based in Montreal.