Posted by: Knightbird | August 5, 2015

“Lean, the philosophy of gaining efficiencies”

In March of this year, Chamber board member Dr. Jim Johnsen was kind enough to introduce me to the President of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, Rachael Petro. I suggested the State Chamber consider having one of their Lean practicing members speak at their conference in October. I was ecstatic to learn that not only one member will be speaking, but 4 will. The Presidents of Alaska Airlines and Alaska Communication Systems will speak together with representatives from Boeing and Premera Blue Cross. The title of this post is the title of their conference and here is a link to the announcement.

My advocacy for Lean management began with the Alaska Tribal Health System and Southcentral Foundation in 2005. That same year, I began to recommend that Sealaska seriously consider looking at Lean. In 2007, I put together the first and only Lean focused conference in Alaska, on healthcare. I wrote a paper titled “A proposed path to wellness for the Indian Health Service” and distributed it widely, including to the Alaska Native Health Board, the Alaska Tribal Health System, the National Indian Health Board, the Secretary of Health and Human Services as well as the White House. Nothing has happened. In 2011, Dr. Tom Jackson and I presented a break out session on Lean management for tribal organizations. I have since heard of a couple of Native organizations exploring Lean management. Not a very loud exploration, but at least it’s being considered.

Sealaska had a brief flurry of Lean activity in 2009 and 2010, but it was apparently only to secure executive bonuses. It did not become a sustainable practice. In 2013, Sealaska had a huge operating loss of $35 million. Outside of our joint venture with former partner Nypro Precision Plastics, Sealaska had no Lean practice in our subsidiaries, where the losses accrued.

Alaska Communication Systems adopted lean in 2011 and has realized substantial benefit in a very tight, competitive market. Jim Johnsen was charged with changing ACS into a Lean company. He did a great job and is not  moving on to the University of Alaska where he has said he plans to introduce Lean Education as their management system and begin to provide education and training to meet the new Lean practitioner requirements for Alaska.

When I started my advocacy, I thought it would be easy.. The benefits of Lean are so obvious after just a couple of Kaizen. I was shocked to see how blind our managers really are to true improvement cultures. Perhaps we have reached what Malcolm Gladwell has referred to as “The Tipping Point” for Lean in Alaska. I sure hope so. If we have, it’s been a long time incubating.

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