After companies have decided that they want to adopt the Lean business principles and ensure that their companies eliminate waste from all their practices and processes, a Lean Sensei is often appointed, to oversee the process.

A Sensei is in fact a Japanese word that is used for teacher, so the Sensei will be the person who teaches others how to implement Lean principles and how to ensure that Lean becomes the predominant culture within an organisation.

Should The Sensei Be Internal Or External?

There are advantages and disadvantages to both an internal and external candidate. The internal candidate will require substantial amounts of training and they will have to be a strong character and leader in order to ‘spread the word’ about Lean.

However, the benefits of an internal Sensei are often substantial. They can be viewed as ‘one of us’ by the rest of the company and so they are trusted by other personnel. They may also be able to informally spread the word to people who are resisting the change over to the Lean way of thinking.

An external Sensei can be met with suspicion by the workforce, because they may feel that the Sensei doesn’t quite understand how they work and what their constraints and pressures are. Conversely however, the external Sensei may be a fresh pair of eyes who is able to shed new light on business processes and also the external person will come with no baggage. They have no friends in the business and they may find it easier to be objective as a result.

So there is no hard and fast rule as to whether or not the company should employ an internal or external Sensei, the most important thing is that the company should have a NEED to adopt Lean principles and thinking.

Needing To Go Lean:

Lean is a very good business practice, but it is dramatic and as such there needs to be a catalyst or crisis that prompts Lean becoming the answer to the company’s troubles.

Needing to go Lean may result from the recession, from competitors closing the gap or even depend on the currency exchange rate: but that need or catalyst has to be explained to all the workforce. If there is no immediate need or catalyst, then one has to be created, simply because successful Lean implementation is dependent on that crisis.

Lean radically alters how a company runs. If dramatic change is implemented without a crisis or catalyst, then the workforce will resist that change. If they see Lean as the potential saviour of the company, then they are more likely to embrace it.

Creating the crisis is not as difficult as it may seem because every company has threats, so identifying the major threat to a company and then using that as the ‘crisis’ can be standard procedure.

The Sensei needs to be on board in terms of agreeing that the crisis is sufficient to require Lean to be adopted. Without the Sensei fully believing in the need for Sensei, the process may be doomed to failure.

The Switchover to Lean

The switchover to Lean practices should begin with finding a suitable change agent and Sensei, both of whom may be external or internal to the company.

The crisis or catalyst for the change needs to be identified or created.

All or parts of the business need to be mapped out in terms of their value stream. This mapping exercise will reveal where there is substantial wastage within the company and will ensure that the critical areas, where Lean should initially be applied, will be readily apparent.

After the value stream mapping exercise, key areas of the company should be targeted as the first to ‘Go Lean’ and from there, Lean principles should be adopted, with substantial help from the Change Agent(s) and Sensei.

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