What’s the next best thing? How do we continue to add value? When can we develop something innovative and groundbreaking?
These questions apply to more than just lean; they can be asked of the packaging industry or any business. With rapid advancements in technology, the drive to come up with new ideas, products, and solutions seems to be limitless. However, maybe a focus on the foundation and basics needs to be the top priority before trying to innovate. In the lean world, one of the toughest things to do during kaizen is develop a less wasteful process. To literally think outside the box, remove your existing paradigms of why something may or may not work, then partner with the stakeholders to come up with the third alternative (Covey reference) that is waste-free.
Find Your Focus
There are many proven lean tools and concepts to draw on—such as single piece flow and kanban—but it’s the focus on basics that is missing in many organizations. It is the complete understanding of the basics that will drive true kaizen, which is also what created those tried and true lean concepts and tools in the first place.
In lean, you can’t focus on learning advanced problem-solving tools like kata until you have the basic ability of seeing and measuring waste. However, all too often this is what I see and hear. Lean leaders and professionals are out learning new tools and going to more seminars, while back on the plant floor, only a select few people can identify all the forms of waste and give examples from their work area. Fundamentally, I believe this is wrong.
The original (yes, basic) forms of waste are: transportation, excess inventory, wasted motion, waiting, overproduction, overprocessing, and defects. There are people who would argue there are more forms of waste, but they’re just trying to innovate and be new. Basics … we’re talking about basics, man. Basics.
In the packaging world, you can’t design and manufacture an innovative new corrugated box without first understanding the basic characteristics of corrugated board. Moreover, you can’t ignore these basic characteristics either. Corrugated fundamentals need to be taught and retaught within our organizations. How often is your team being trained and retrained on the basics of corrugated? Hopefully, at least when they’re hired.
A Shared Vision
Beyond lean and packaging, the basics-focused mindset can apply to our businesses, too. Does everyone on your team truly know why you exist as a business, what your purpose is, and what your vision and mission are? Have you asked? In your business, these things should be considered the platform of decision. True north. The ultimate basics. Please don’t take it for granted that your team knows these basics.
Are you the best in your market/industry at your core business, or are you just one of many who is indistinguishable from your competition? Quality, customer service, speed to market, and people development are the basics you need to be focused on; be great at those things.
By the way, you’ll notice price wasn’t on my list. What if our energy were focused on the basics and doing everything with wow? What if we took all our energy and improved all the systems and processes that make our businesses tick? How good could your quality be? How fast could your lead time be? To what level could your customer service grow?
Tried and True
As an avid reader, I am always on the hunt for great business, leadership, or personal development books. To the contrary, I was recently listening to a talk by one of my favorite thought leaders on the topic of leadership and personal development, who talked about the desire for many people—like me—to continue reading new books in search of the next great book. However, this search for “new” can prevent you from truly absorbing, applying, and learning the fundamentals. He challenged the listener, instead of searching for the latest piece of development literature, to seek out the tried and true classics and read those books, then reread them and master them. I am on a mission right now to follow this advice by reading, again, the classics in my collection: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Art of War, and a few others.
Most companies focus on being OK at the basics while pushing to innovate. I challenge you to innovate on the basics, then try to change the world.
VP | Operations