Reflections ... The Power of Lean


“Continuous improvement is not about the things you do well — that’s work. Continuous improvement is about removing the things that get in the way of your work. The headaches, the things that slow you down, that’s what continuous improvement is all about.” ~Bruce Hamilton

Hopefully you have seen the recent messages from many leaders within our shareholder organization regarding GE’s lean focus. I asked Lisset Lopez, our APM Business Improvement Leader and Lean Champion, to share her reflections with us about Lean and how it applies in APM. One point Lisset helped me understand better is that at the foundation of Lean is a respect for people. When we truly value people, we are driven to remove the wasteful tasks – the headaches that get in our way and slow us down. Then our people are freed to do their jobs with excellence.

Thank you, Lisset, for helping us (and me) better understand via Lean how we can respect and value our people. Below is further insight provided by Lisset.

The Power of Lean

What is it?

Lean methodology is used to continuously improve processes by eliminating waste. It emphasizes removing activities that do not add value to a process. Continuous improvement and respect for people are critical elements that guide the concept of lean methodology. There is often the misconception that working lean means working with less people, thus working harder. In fact, it doesn’t mean that at all. Working lean means working with a continuous improvement mindset where all employees are engaged and work together to improve the business by identifying processes where small, incremental changes can be applied to result in major improvements in efficiency and quality. To work lean is to work smarter, not harder.

Why is it important?

With changing markets, technology, and business practices, it is important that we are constantly seeking innovative, cost-effective ideas to help us remain competitive. When embraced and executed well, lean improves safety, quality, productivity and culture. It aids the business in becoming more flexible and adaptable to change. Customer satisfaction through performance excellence is our focus and lean promotes this concept.

When could it be applied? Who could apply it?

While lean originated in manufacturing and was later adopted in construction, it can be applied everywhere, and I don’t mean just the workplace. You can apply it to your personal life as well. If you believe that there is room for improvement, you are already a champion of lean. This is where Kaizen (continuous improvement) comes into play. Once you identify there is a problem with potential opportunities for improvement, lean thinking should be applied.

So why is it important that everyone is engaged? Simply put, everyone is an expert of their function. This is where respect for people comes into play. If you want to change it, to the gemba, the place where the work occurs, where the value is created. Only there will you see the process and identify opportunities for improvement first-hand.

Where does this fit into our APM?

Lean is not new to APM. We’ve been practicing lean methodology in the field, on the floor, and corporately. A few recent examples include: the Homer City outage (where we realized approximately $326K in lean savings); the Tool Center in Pasadena (where we focused on the removal of waste to allow for uninterrupted flow of tooling to jobsites); and two phases of implementing improvements on requisitioning, PO processing & approvals, and compliance reporting. The proof is in the pudding, lean really works!

Our focus for the second half of the year will be on being more aggressive in our application of lean. The goal is to create more value with less muda (waste), mura (variation), and muri (overburden) through use of Kaizen processes. This will result in more than just providing greater customer satisfaction. It will help us boost team collaboration, encourage problem-solving, empower employees to share observations regarding inefficiencies, provide cost-reductions, and promote transparency amongst our teams.