On the scene: A lean business primer

 An Oregon Entrepreneurs Network PubTalk opens a window on the cult of lean.

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If you’re like me and never heard of lean, don’t be intimidated: The lean business model simply focuses on implementing efficiencies and paying attention to the customer and employee experience.  Lean comes with its own terminology — Japanese phrases like “kanban,” “kaizen,” and “poka yoka”  — and it involves following a set of general principles rooted in the elimination of waste and respect for people.

The lean method was developed in the 1950s by Taiichi Ohno, a Toyota engineer, when the automaker was on the brink of bankruptcy. It worked. Ohno was able to turn the company around by creating a process that maximized efficiency, employees and growth.

Lean is typically associated with the manufacturing industry. But the OEN PubTalk panel — featuring speakers from the legal, wood products and food processing industries — emphasized that lean can work for anyone. That’s because at its core, the lean philosophy is about eliminating wasted time and effort at all levels of business operations.

Here are some takeaways from the panelists:

“I’ve been doing it for 6 years now and I still don’t understand it.”

“Failure is how you learn. Things go wrong all the time, and that’s what it’s about: embracing it.”

Kjell Van Zoen, lean business consultant and panel moderator

 “When the recession hit back in 2008, we not only got hit by the recession, but we got hit by China. We lost our parts to China. I think the only reason we got through it was because of lean.”

“What we realized 3 years in, is we weren’t doing the people side of it. We didn’t change the culture. Our culture was get it going, keep it running. So when we started lean we didn’t drop that, we kept trying to push and that didn’t really work.”

– Alvin Elbert, A.R.E. Manufacturing, panelist

DSC00227Panelists discuss the benefits of lean at an OEN PubTalk Wednesday, June 8.                                                                                                                            Photos by Justin Chi                     

 “My best achievement is teaching Kanban [meaning inventory control sans headache] to my child for his homework. The amount of peace it brought into my life, my family’s life by bringing kanban to my kid, is immeasurable.”

– John Grant, Agile Attorney Network, panelist

“We had one person doing the same thing. I realized I didn’t want to run a sweatshop. Now everyone’s switching tasks, and people are happier.”

– Ken Tomita, Grovemade, panelist

 “We didn’t implement lean years later. We started working with lean right off the bat. We’re in an industry that is very new. How do we get a competitive edge? I truly believe lean is a competitive advantage.”

– Yesenia Gallardo, Poda Foods, panelist