Lean Thoughts From on High

I’ve been singularly lucky this last week, recharging my batteries for the autumn by walking in the Alps ahead of the UK Lean Government Conference. What follows is my musings on the application of Lean in everyday life.

On Sunday, I was sitting in the sun clip_image002with this view of the Alps. Our location was quite remote and that is fresh snow at over 2000m/6600ft. Nothing too remarkable until one realises that we were at a table in front of a mountain refuge and the food was a freshly prepared hot Sunday lunch. We were treated to local sausages cooked in white wine with onions, potatoes and leeks, washed down with a nice glass of local beer. Dessert was a fresh blueberry tart, a delicious local speciality.

Now that got me thinking – how on earth do the staff at these mountain refuges do it? Sunday lunch is particularly popular and these people put on a fine lunch for large groups. Consider the logistics. The nearest road is more than 700m/2300ft below the refuge and the only way in is on foot. They do use mules to carry in the supplies, but they must have good processes to deal with demand.

I think we’re really looking at classic DMAIC process management. Defining the problem and listening to the customers’ voice is straightforward. We want good food, on demand, in fantastic scenery, on any given day. The scenery is a given, the rest is harder to manage.

Measuring is maybe not so easy, and may not be too scientific – a discussion of what did and did not go well, including portions sold and the number of guests. Of course, quality of the food and variety offered plays into this as well.

Analysis must involve a fine balance between what the mules can carry and what supplies are needed. Some of the food, such as the local Diot sausages, don’t require refrigeration, but much of it will. There is seldom mains electricity, though photo-voltaic arrays are now common. Fridges and cooking are gas powered, and all the gas bottles have to be brought in and removed when empty.

Implementation and Control follow, as night follows day. The best refuges get a lot of customers, with walking groups coming from far and wide in the certain knowledge that super food will be available to match the wonderful vistas. Oh, and as a by-the-by, the refuges mainly exist for providing overnight accommodation for walkers, so it’s not just Sunday lunch they have to think about.

I suppose what this shows is that Lean can be just a way of life. In mountain refuges successful Lean leads to business success. In our economic times, Lean is a must. I am enthused by my Alpine experience into thinking that every area of Government can improve by learning lessons from constrained circumstances just as I have described.

I’m really looking forward to the conference – Lean is the way forward and I am eager to discuss this with everyone in attendance.

If you’re also at the conference, please stop me and say hello!

Alan Cameron
Managing Director, DCG-SMS

Written by Michael D. Harris at 07:30
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