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A Lean Journey with The Sumo Wrestler

Posted: 06/16/2009
Dr. Arul Aruleswaran and Thaatch Kananatu
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The crunch on financial markets globally has prompted business leaders to effectively free up valuable cash, which is often tied up with processes and activities that are not directly linked to customers' needs and requirements. You could see that there is demand for Lean experts as these corporations begin their Lean Journey—perhaps the need to eliminate a history of non-value-added work.

A Lean Journey typically focuses on developing the ability of resources and internal experts to effectively identify the Seven Deadly Wastes or even Muda, Muri and Mura, as well as to undertake a thorough Value Analysis on every aspect of a process.

Starting on Your Organization’s Lean Journey

Where does one start in an organization that has not made any Lean improvements? Basic skills such as recognizing waste, walking through the process to identify these wastes and generating ideas/solutions to eliminate them is one approach of embarking on a Lean Journey. Alternately, one could also consider developing a culture of 5S and reviewing workstations and shop-floors to ensure that unnecessary items, activities and wastes are not in the way of daily productivity.

There are many Lean toolsets that are basic and could be introduced to an organization rapidly—the opinion is that there is no hard and fast rule to say that a specific set of tools are mandatory tools for beginners on a Lean Journey.

A Lean Journey is like starting a franchise—the entry cost is low but the risks of failure are high because the goals can get off-sight.

The journey needs to begin with management buy-in, and all mid-level managers and supervisors must have their goals and objectives aligned towards the Lean Journey. A collective mindset to improve is essential.

The Monk and the Sumo Wrestler

Robin Sharma's The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari discusses something called "Kaizen." This is typical terminology in the Lean toolset. Business leaders who are novice to the Lean toolset usually become intrigued at first at the thought that this was some sort of martial arts tactic from Japan, like sumo wrestling. They have not heard of it.

Strangely, Sharma’s chapter on Kaizen was a welcomed discovery. It had nothing to do with martial arts, but it did have a "9 foot tall, 900 pound Japanese sumo wrestler."

Here is what Sharma says on "Kaizen":

"...many centuries ago in the ancient East, the great teachers developed and refined a philosophy called Kaizen. This Japanese word means constant and never-ending improvement. And it's the personal trademark of every man and woman who is living a soaring, fully awakened existence."

Kaizen is all about self-mastery. It is about building a strong character, a discipline filled with energy and optimistic thinking.

Tying Kaizen to the Lean Journey

What does this all have to do with the Lean Journey? Well, the Lean Journey includes Kaizen of a not-too-different kind. Kaizen, after all, is about "constant and never-ending improvement," which falls squarely into continuous improvement.

In the book, Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Business, Maasaaki Imai popularized the term. The concept is applicable to self-improvement and continuous improvement in any area of business. Much like Lean manufacturing, eliminating the waste and improving standardized activities and processes.

In Chinese, they say gai shan, which means "change for the better" or "improve."

Essentially, to benefit, whether it is an individual’s benefit or a company’s benefit or even a society’s benefit, one needs to change. Kaizen is all about change. As Sharma put it, "Change is the most powerful force in our society today. Most people fear it, the wise embrace it. Zen tradition speaks of a beginner's mind: Those who keep their minds open to new concepts—those whose cups are always empty—will always move to higher levels of achievement and fulfillment."

Change Management is Critical for Adopting the Lean Journey

Change management is the most complex aspect of any Lean or Six Sigma deployment. Even leaders of continuous improvement programs believe that "change is essential and good as long as it doesn't affect me." This makes embedding Lean within the DNA of an organization a challenge. Perhaps, it is because self mastery of skills and tools is not considered as the foundation of life mastery from an organizational aspect.


Thank you, for your interest in A Lean Journey with The Sumo Wrestler.