Posted by: knightbird | February 20, 2015

The Slow Spread of Lean in Alaska

My vision for Alaska is that we have a strong, vibrant private sector with strong well paying employment, including in rural Alaska. We should have a government sector that provides great value addressing our common issues in a caring and compassionate manner. I want our education system to develop all of our children into educated and accomplished adults. As I have learned from my Lean study and Implementations, having a strong vision and direction is important, whatever you are trying to do. But even more important is to have a fact based study of the current state, and plan out next target conditions. That’s tougher than it looks. You need to know who you are, accept that and have a plan for change. We are not there in Alaska. We are still reactionary. And we try to solve problems by doing the same old, same old.

In 2005, I tried to influence the Alaska Tribal Health System to consider adopting Lean Thinking. In 2007, I sponsored the first and only Lean Healthcare Conference in Alaska. I have talked to Gubernatorial candidates, politicians, and leadership at the University of Alaska, Commissioners—basically anyone who would listen—about the power of Lean Thinking. I would hear tidbits about Lean Implementations in Alaska. The military has its version of Lean. The Alaska Division of Public Assistance and a couple of related agencies have used Lean tools in the past. The Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education has used Lean tools in some of its document processes. And I have been talking to a candidate for Mayor, the Superintendent of the Anchorage School District, a City Manager and others connected with government. Lean is not new. It has been in Alaska for some time now. Now I have heard of the first private sector attempt at implementing Lean. Lean is slowly spreading, and we need to fan the fire. How do we do that?

The first step is more education through the media. They use lots of ink and pixels talking about the consequences of budget reductions, and nothing about good management. They write a lot about short term reactions, but very little about strategic direction. They are really good at writing about problems, from a micro perspective, but poor at discussing macro conditions. If you apply a tree analysis to most stories, it only has a couple of branches. And if it’s a series of stories, they have no roots. We need to write stories about Lean implementations, however small they are.

And we have to counter the trolls. They are ubiquitous. It won’t work here because we are different. We don’t care how they do it outside. It’s a fad. The shallow reactionary non-thinkers are everywhere. We should not cater to them. Let’s write instead for the open mind that still does some thinking. In the Lower 48, the topic of Lean is discussed a lot more frequently than here in Alaska. We could write about it. We have FedEx, Alaska Airlines and Starbucks as serious practitioners of Lean. And there are a couple of

The second step is to start providing education close to home. I have to travel to other places to attend a Lean management workshop. Why aren’t the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau working to attract Lean Management seminars and workshops to Alaska? It’s good business, and people would come because we are Alaska.

Our Universities do not have a Lean Management course. They have one or two supply chain management courses, but I could not find a course that focused on the Lean Production model. We should offer a degree in Lean Management—for both business and public administration.

Our business support entities should also be advocating for our organizations to explore Lean Thinking, and invite speakers to talk about the subject.

I responded to a question put to me by a caring supervisor. Leave walking in daily routine because it makes our employee healthier. I then pointed out the detriment of accepting any waste in our processes. 20 minutes a day of unnecessary walking adds 83 hours of waste to a routine on an annual basis. At $30 an hour, that’s $2,500 annually. Multiply that by the number of employees, and you are talking about serious money. And multiply that waste by many others, and the waste explodes with losses. So why not accept the cost? My answer is that should your competitor eliminate that waste, and put the time into productive work, they are beating you on two fronts. They eliminate the cost of walking, and use the time on productive efforts. So if the 20 minutes are used to make stuff instead of walking, you can add $2,500 of value created. That’s a turn of $5,000 annually.

Alaska’s competitors are reducing waste and adding value. They have a head start on us that cannot be overcome using popular management systems in Alaska. In my next post, I will talk about how ineffective government processes cost us.

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