Last month, I was delivering a Lean workshop at a Paints and Coatings company. It is a multi-national company, American headquarters. As it normally does in such workshops, the conversation veered around to – are there any Indian companies which have truly embraced Lean and are practising it?

It is an intriguing question. I think there are very few examples – if at all. Of course, this is based on my exposure to the Indian industry and references that I looked up. Whatever little we have in terms of examples, they are mostly in the multi-nationals and mostly in the automobile industry (rub-off effect from working with Japanese companies).
If you have contrary data, I would love to be corrected.

In this post, I tell you what I found and what I think about:

– Why levels of Lean adoption in Indian companies is abysmal?
– Why it is important for Indian industry to adopt these methods?
– How you can get started with it?

Why is the Lean adoption so abysmal in India?

1. There is no appetite for Lean from the top: Typical Indian leaders have no appetite for bringing about a transformation. Even the leaders that know about Lean would simply tell their teams to “do this Lean thing” and complain that they are not doing it. It is much easier to blame “government policies” or “market conditions” to explain the absence of results. Ownership and accountability is not a particularly common trait and it starts from the top.

2. Lack of awareness: Though concepts like Lean, Kanban, Kaizen, etc. are simple in theory, they are not easy to implement, and it takes a lot of hard work when you get down to the details. There is not much awareness about what it entails, and very little guidance is available.

3. “It won’t work here” syndrome: Culturally, we have lost the ability to acknowledge the importance of “learning”. Whenever you bring up a new concept, the typical response from people at all levels (shop floor to board rooms) is – “Yeah yeah – we know about that, but it won’t really work in our company”. For example, try bringing up “Just-in-time” inventory management and people instantly pounce upon you giving a hundred reasons why it will “never work” in India. Hardly any thought will be applied to “how can we make it work in India”?

4. Twisting Lean beyond recognition: You can read the annual reports of many companies who will claim they are following Lean, Six Sigma and other methods. Dig a little deeper and you will find it is simply a façade. Whatever they are doing internally (a training initiative, an ERP implementation, an inventory management system, etc.) is branded as Lean, without implementing a holistic system.
Why is Lean so important?

It is a tragedy that while we aspire to be a manufacturing super-power, we have paid so little attention to a concept that is simple, yet powerful. No matter what the industry and nature of work going in on your organization, these concepts will give you some food for thought and you can see tangible improvements very quickly.
Further, it has the potential to achieve a radical transformation in an organization. The result will be an organization that is resilient, having a dedicated work force committed to continuous improvement and is positioned for long term success.
How to become truly “Lean”?

To be truly successful, a Lean transformation journey should have support at all levels of the organization – from the Board of Directors and Chief Executive to the ground. The starting point (as with anything in life) is to become aware about what is involved and a whole-hearted commitment towards it. The following steps are typically involved in a Lean journey.

1. The first step is to define the “value” being delivered. Value has to be defined in customer understandable terms. For example – if an organization manufactures and commissions air-conditioning systems. What is the value being delivered? Is it the product or the service? Or is it the comfort experienced by the customer and the peace of mind as a result?

2. The second step is draw a detailed value stream map of the organization. Classify the steps in the process as “value adding” or “non-value adding”. Again, it may be an involved exercise. For example – assume that you manage a food supply chain from farm to the consumer. Transportation of goods from the farm to the market – is it value adding or not?

3. The third step is to make the process fast by creating a smooth “flow” of work items across the chain. This may involve challenging fundamental assumptions and figuring out where efficiencies can be gained.

4. The fourth step is to set up a pull-based work management system like Kanban. This will bring in practices like reducing work-in-progress, just-in-time inventory management, etc. and create a sharp focus on the work being performed.

5. Finally, you need to bring about a culture of continuous improvement – constantly striving for perfection by adopting Kaizen principles.

All this may sound very simple and it is. However, simple is not the same as easy!
Get in touch if you need help on your Lean transformation journey.