Eirik Nordbø Discusses Telenor Norway's Approach to Lean Sustainability

Eirik Nordbø

Many process improvement leaders can point to several reasons as to why a Lean transformation may fail. In this Six Sigma & Process Excellence IQ interview, Eirik Nordbù, director of Lean transformation for Telenor Norway, discusses the specific sustainability challenges of deploying Lean and shares how his organization is taking the steps to ensure its own Lean program endures.

Interview by Genna Weiss

Why do you feel it is difficult for organizations to sustain their Lean or Process Excellence transformation programs?

I believe many Lean transformation programs fail because the importance of the cultural aspects in an organization is underestimated. Sustainability in an organization is oriented around vision, values, strategy, leadership and people. Unless the transformation is well anchored in all those elements you probably won’t succeed with a transformation. I would specially emphasize the importance of anchorage of the top management.

Many companies use Lean as a cost-cutting tool. A transformation will not sustain itself when solely based on cost reduction because the organization will not support it over time. People want to know what benefit they will have in the transformation, and if the only selling point is reduced cost and risk of losing their job, the people will not support you. You might even risk them working against you.

A third aspect is that some companies lack the persistence over time. The Lean transformation is a journey, and the organization, including top management, must realize that it takes time.


How do you align short term cost saving with sustainable continuous improvement initiatives?

I would rather not refer to short term cost savings because that means that you are not succeeding in transforming to Lean and continuous improvement. Lean is about reducing waste, unevenness and burden in the organization, and continuously doing that, based on a long term vision.

Still, depending on the maturity level of a program it will in some cases be necessary to do short-term savings. For example, in the start of a transformation program the first projects might be short-term cost saving initiatives due to urgent need to deliver better financial results. But eventually all initiatives should be connected to long-term goals incorporated into the overall business plan and included in continuous improvement efforts.

From my perspective, it is critical that a Lean transformation program reflect your strategy and business plan, and therefore you will probably have improvement areas with both cost reduction and growth potential. In doing so, you will secure employees’ trust and motivation to contribute in future continuous improvement initiatives that result in both reduced cost and growth in new profitable areas.

Please tell us briefly about Telenor’s own Lean transformation. What strategy have you put in place to ensure that the organization will achieve clear measurable benefit?

We have been doing process improvement work for many years with various methods, but established the Lean Transformation program in 2007. Early on, we identified some guiding principles in our Lean transformation and have put a lot of emphasis on these:

  • Top management support
  • Cross-functional initiatives
  • Local ownership
  • Fact-based analysis
  • Alignment on all levels within the organization

We have also created a strong connection between customer value and our brand, whereas Lean is communicated as the mean to reach the goal. Another important aspect is that you must have persistence, as a Lean transformation takes time. Toyota has developed their "way" over 40 to 50 years and is still evolving; you can’t expect to do the same journey in 2 to 3 years.

Can you give us a few examples of how you’ve driven this success in achieving continuous improvement sustainability within Telenor?

I would highlight three areas:

  • Continuously delivering financial results is critical to be allowed to lead a Lean transformation. If you don`t deliver measurable results, you will not have the top management’s attention and support.
  • Many Lean programs focus only on waste. We have also focused on reducing burden and unevenness, in addition to eliminating waste. My experience is that people get motivated and are enabled to reduce waste if you in parallel help them to reduce burden and balance unevenness.
  • Education and training within the entire organization is very important. In our most successful projects, we have delivered training to all levels, from top management to the shop floor in order to create a common-knowledge platform and secure understanding for the Lean improvement potential.

If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently?

I think we have done the right things in the right order. However, if I could do one thing differently it would be to focus more on training initiatives from the start of the Lean transformation program.

What does the Lean roadmap look like for Telenor heading into 2011 and in the longer term?
We will continue our work with integrating Lean with our overall initiatives regarding strategy, values, leadership and people. This means that we will continue to deliver strategic Lean projects and develop our Telenor Lean Academy.