Your opportunity to join the newly formed Lean and Sustainable Industry Consortium

A unique opportunity to collaborate with like-minded organisations and leading thinkers on Lean and Sustainable issues has emerged.

The next GEMBA exchange is being held at the Vaillant group on the 3rd March. The Vaillant Group were the winners of the best Factory Award for 2015. They are at the forefront of sustainability management and have set a benchmark in the areas of ecological, economical and social sustainability. The agenda for this meeting can be viewed by opening the agenda PDF.

Membership in this network provides you and your organisation the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded individuals in a safe, engaging and open environment. The consortium’s vision is to form a selective group of senior industry players who are currently leading the creation of leaner and greener business practices within their companies. This will be a small group of around 15 leading edge organizations, coming together regularly to build a global lean and green community. There are a number of key benefits for the members:

  • Participation in the consortium events such as quarterly facilitated “Gemba exchanges”, online forums and regular seminars.
  • First hand observation of how other businesses, from diverse sectors, create lean and green and how they sustain the results.
  • Facilitated “lean and green maturity assessment” for your selected sites and creation of your own bespoke lean and green business roadmap where needed.
  • Credibility of thought leadership and university collaboration.
  • Opportunity to influence the direction of your own business as well as being directly involved in shaping the direction of “lean and green business” on the global stage.
  • Staff training and Gemba coaching opportunities. All members will be offered to go through the Lean & Green training programme accredited through Cardiff University.
  • Access to lean and green experts and facilitators, expert trainers and training material, tools, and cutting edge of knowledge.

The Lean and Sustainable Industry Consortium is owned by its member organisations and will be governed by a board directors consisting of the ‘Lean and Green’ Shingo award winning authors, Andy Wood (Chairman), Hunter Lovins, Keivan Zokaei and Prof. Peter Hines.

To find out more about this opportunity, download the PDF benefits document.

You can also contact Keivan Zockaei at, or call him on +44 (0)7966 299598

Focus on the Aerospace & Defence Sector for January

S A Partners are engaged in a number of strategic and exciting enterprise excellence and capability development programmes within the Aerospace and Defence sector. The sector is led by Robin Jaques , Partner at S A Partners.

Members of the team who deliver in the aerospace & defence sector, have recently been accredited to train individuals and organisations to a globally renowned Leadership Development standard that has provenance lasting over 30 years.

Because of its ability to help people excel as self-leaders and as leaders of others, the model is embraced by many of the world’s most successful organisations.

We are also proud of our links with charities related to the defence sector, and recently helped Homes for Heroes by giving them free strategic guidance on the next stage of their business growth.

If you would like to know how S A Partners can help your Aerospace and Defence related business, please contact Robin Jaques direct, by e-mail.

Life on the Road

You can be fairly sure that management consulting includes travelling, regardless of who you work for. If you’re a consultant, you can expect to become familiar with hotels, Bed and Breakfast and airports, not to mention hire cars and miles on the road.

The glamour of being a consultant travelling the world is not all what it seems to be you know, and here’s  why travelling can be stressful.

This week I set off for a journey to Mexico:

  1. Left home 5am
  2. Possible speeding fine M4
  3. Snow, ice and fog on journey up to Heathrow
  4. 25 minute traffic jam to get into Heathrow carpark
  5. Car hit crash barrier in carpark
  6. 55min delay leaving Heathrow
  7. Crazy dash across Paris airport with gammy knee(only had it fixed two days before – gentle stretching and ice packs)
  8. 11 and half hour flight to Mexico- 2 screaming babies, bizzare Air France cheese based refreshments and sat next to a woman who sounded like a grasshopper
  9. 65 minute queue to get through customs- only had immigration forms in Spanish- so didn’t know how to fill them in- guessed what I had to complete- probably here for next 2 years!
  10. Crazy journey across Mexico city- cross between whacky races and death race 2000
  11. Taken out to dinner and given “typical Mexican food” at 9pm Mexico time -3am UK time!
  12. Couldn’t sleep because of knee sore after crazy dash(see point 7 above), indigestion(points 8 and 11 above), jet lag, knocked phone off hook, toilet trip at 1.15, 3.45, mobile went off at 4.15 and guy in next room up at 5am-singing Enrique in the shower
  13. Wrote this email 1pm following day!
  14. Over 7,000 miles car, train, plane, train, run, plane, car in 30 hours with about 4 hours sleep.
  15. 5 hours of queuing and waiting

Still shouldn’t grumble – 4 day workshop coming up and then we get to do points 1-15 above in reverse with the added bonus of landing in Heathrow slap bang in the middle of Friday rush hour!

And what of the view for this glamorous lifestyle?

view from the hotel room in mexico
view from the hotel room in Mexico

As you can see, well worth the long long journey!

Customer Value in Perspective

The customer is at the heart of almost all contemporary management approaches that have emerged over the last few decades – lean, six sigma, BPR, TQM, JIT, ToC to name but a few. Customer value is first, and arguably most important, of the five lean principles. The five lean principles first appeared in Womack and Jones’ seminal text of 1996, Lean Thinking. They are:

  1. Specify value in the eyes of the customer
  2. Identify the value stream
  3. Make the value-creating steps flow
  4. Let customers pull value
  5. Continually strive for perfection

Customer value, in spite of being the first and most important of the lean principles, is probably the least understood. Consequently companies often ignore it opting instead to work on mapping their far more visible value streams. More often than not this is for a want of approach or technique to tackle customer value. Broadly, the lean world is awash with an array of different tools and techniques. See, for example, John Bicheno’s many toolbox publications. The over-abundance of lean tools brings with it two main problems: first, a perception that lean is all about tools rather than an holistic systems approach to business management; second, dilution of the really powerful tools amongst the many. Having argued that there are probably too many lean tools around, customer value is an area in which a tool, or rather a systematic approach, is lacking and urgently needed. Many companies would benefit from a periodic review of customer value – one that offers real depth of understanding, not the superficial and often meaningless information gathered through customer service surveys.

At S A Partners we have been experimenting with such an approach for a number of years. We have tested our approach with a number of our more adventurous clients and have been pleasantly surprised at the insight that our clients gain from this approach. For some clients it has led to a re-think of the basic elements of their prevailing strategy. In all cases, clients have learned something new about what their customer really value.

Our confidence in our systematic customer value (or Voice of the Customer) approach has grown such that we are now ready to share it with the wider lean community. We hope it will trigger debate and generate greater activity around customer value. In our forthcoming webinar my colleague, Steve Baker, will explain our approach and provide case study examples from both large multinationals and small enterprises.

Cultech Lean Academy Success

S A Partners were delighted to award Lean Academy certificates to delegates at Cultech following the successful completion of training and improvement projects funded by the Food and Drink programme. Since being established in 1994, Cultech has become internationally recognised as both an innovator and premium quality manufacturer within the nutritional supplement industry. Future success within their industry will increasingly rely upon innovative products to allow differentiation from competitors. Robust and predictable operating systems will enable Cultech to focus on what will make the difference going forward.

Cultech General Management, Alan Jones, said this about the projects of two groups of delegates,

‘During the course of the projects, both teams used both lean and six sigma tools and techniques in order to reach their proposed solutions, the outcome of which, was a significant cost saving for the company through reductions in labour, material waste and product cycle times.

Supplementary benefits for the company was the personal development of all participants in using lean and six sigma tools and techniques, stakeholder management and team working, which they can apply to other improvement projects.’

Systems Thinking: From Heresay to Practice

An exploration into the application of systems thinking to a variety of public and private sector service organisations. Written in accessible language by leading experts (practitioners and management theorists) it draws out the distinctions between conventional approaches to change in both service and manufacturing organisations and those using systems thinking methods.

The work illustrates the counter-intuitive truths revealed by studying service organisations as systems and uses case studies to demonstrate how organisations have been re-designed using systems principles and the strong impact these have on performance and morale.

Purchase this book.

Lean Evolution: Lessons from the Workplace

Lean thinking is a powerful method that allows organizations to improve the productivity, efficiency and quality of their products or services. Achieving these benefits requires good teamwork, clear communication, intelligent use of resources and a commitment to continuous improvement.

This 2006 book shows how lean thinking can be applied in practice, highlighting the key challenges and pitfalls. The authors, based at a leading centre for lean enterprise research, begin with an overview of the theory of lean thinking. They then explain the core tools and techniques and show how they can be applied successfully. The detailed implementation of lean thinking is illustrated by several case studies, from a range of industries, in which the authors had unprecedented access to the management teams. With its focus on implementation and practical solutions, this book will appeal to managers at all levels, as well as to business students and researchers in lean thinking.

Purchase this book.

Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap, and Others Don’t

The best-selling Built to Last answered the question of what it takes to build an enduring, great company from the ground up. Good to Great answers an even more compelling question: can a good company become a great one and, if so, how?

After a five-year research project, Collins concludes that good to great can and does happen. In this book, he uncovers the underlying variables that enable any type of organization to make the leap from good to great while other organizations remain only good. Rigorously supported by evidence, his findings are surprising – at times even shocking – to the modern mind.

Good to Great achieves a rare distinction: a management book full of vital ideas that reads as well as a fast-paced novel.

Purchase this book.

Lean Higher Education

In an environment of diminishing resources, growing enrollment, and increasing expectations of accountability, Lean Higher Education: Increasing the Value and Performance of University Processes provides the understanding and the tools required to return education to the consumers it was designed to serve—the students. It supplies a unifying framework for implementing and sustaining a Lean Higher Education (LHE) transformation at any institution, regardless of size or mission.

Using straightforward language, relevant examples, and step-by-step guidelines for introducing Lean interventions, this authoritative resource explains how to involve stakeholders in the delivery of quality every step of the way. The author details a flexible series of steps to help ensure stakeholders understand all critical work processes. He presents a wealth of empirical evidence that highlights successful applications of Lean concepts at major universities and provides proven methods for uncovering and eliminating activities that overburden staff yet contribute little or no added value to stakeholders.

Purchase this book.

Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation

This book is aimed at any manager interested in sustaining growth within their industry. They define “lean thinking” as the elimination of unnecessary waste in business, and by outlining the principles and applications of this, they link their theories to value for the customer.

Womack and Jones demonstrate the effectiveness of their approach through their research in both the U.S. and Europe. Citing examples from both simple and complex manufacturing processes, and from traditional technologies to high-tech companies, they show how their theories have been put into action.

Based on the belief that companies should compete against perfection rather than each other, Lean Thinking provides a valuable new insight into methods of production management. And by applying the theories outlined in this book, managers across all sectors of the economy will be able to reduce waste and increase profitability.

Purchase this book.

Practical Lean Leadership: A Strategic Leadership Guide For Executives

His is the first book to present Lean leadership in ways that are specific and actionable for executives to apply at work every day. It links Lean principles and tools directly to leadership beliefs, behaviors, and competencies in new and innovative ways that connect to workplace and marketplace realities.

It goes far beyond the common understanding of leadership and the training methods used for leadership development. The workbook can be used individually or by a leadership team in self-paced group training. Senior managers will be inspired by the proven approaches to improving their understanding and practice of strategic leadership.

Purchase this book.

The Importance and Impact of the UK Automotive Sector

According to the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the UK produces around 1.5 million cars and commercial vehicles and 3 million engines, accounting for 9-11% of the UK’s total exports. The sector generates more than £55 billion in annual turnover, employs around 700,000 people and delivers around £12 billion in net value-added to the economy. There is little doubt that the UK remains key global player within the global automotive sector and that the industry is a significant contributor to the UK economy. It is therefore delightful to hear that the government’s policies to reinvigorate this sector appear to paying dividends. This Industry Week article suggests that Britain is accelerating away from its European competitors with investment flowing into the factories of Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover.

It is clear that the car sector matters from an economic point of view. However it is also vital from both an environmental and social point of view. The SMMT 2013 Automotive Sustainability Report, based on 2012 data, does a great job at showing how vehicle manufacturers are doing in their efforts to reduce the environmental impact of their products and manufacturing processes.

However it underplays the importance of role that the sector plays in terms of societal impact. The sustainability report measures social impact in terms of the number of jobs dependent on the sector. While of course this is critical, it is not the only way in which the sector has on contemporary society. The automotive sector has led the way in business and management practice. The car-making sector has a long history of challenging our prevailing mind-sets and shifting the way we think. It spawned the lean movement – a movement that continues to shape business, management, leadership and operational practice. The importance and impact of the car sector is far-reaching and profound.

S A Partners Pays Homage to the late Eiji Toyoda

S A Partners would like to pay homage to the late Eiji Toyota who died this week of heart failure at the ripe old age of 100. Eiji was a cousin of Toyota’s founder, Kiichiro Toyoda. He served as president of the company from 1967 to 1982, became chairman in 1982 and continued in an advisory position up to his death. He spent his early years on the shop floor, was one of the key pioneers of the infamous Toyota Production System and engineered Toyota’s growth to become a leading global carmaker. Eiji, for your contribution to the lean movement, we salute you.

Are we ready for reshoring?

An interesting phenomenon is taking place, which I have been following for the last few of months. With the economy improving and the banks back in profit, is now the right time to re-invest in our own manufacturing base. I’ve read many reports on the ‘forget made in China’ but I’m concerned that we, as a country are not ready for this? This is an extract from what I read recently:

Rising labour and energy costs have made manufacturing in China significantly more expensive; transportation costs have risen; companies have become increasingly aware of the risks of the theft of intellectual property when products are made in China; and in a business where time-to-market is a competitive advantage, it is easier for engineers to drive 10 minutes on the freeway to the factory than to fly for 16 hours.”

I was in a factory in Manchester the other day when the ‘boss’ said to me that they are exporting their product to China, even though they have a site over there, because the Chinese themselves would rather have the UK made product because the quality and reliability is so much better.

I took the following from another article I read regarding food production:

“Reshoring: companies bring production home from China

Leeds noodle-maker is not the only manufacturer to find off shoring to China no longer makes sense

FORGET the era of ‘Made in China’. The latest business phenomenon is ‘reshoring’, where companies in America and Britain are bringing manufacturing home.

In the UK, the weakness of sterling has made the prospect of repatriating jobs even more alluring. Food manufacturer Symington’s is reported today to be moving its noodle-making operation from Guangzhou, China, back to Leeds, Yorkshire. The company, which also makes pasta sauce Ragu and Chicken Tonight, is creating 50 jobs in the process.

Henrik Pade, business development manager at Symington’s, tells the Financial Times it now costs “roughly the same” to make Golden Wonder pot noodles in Yorkshire as it does China.

“Everybody prefers to do manufacturing on their own doorstep rather than far away, which means you need to have a financial incentive to outsource”, he said. The firm said it had once cost 30-35 per cent less to make the noodles in China, but wage inflation there and freight costs had pushed up production costs.

Symington’s is just the latest company to try ‘reshoring’. The FT notes that clothing manufacturers Top Shop and River Island have also been purchasing more materials from domestic suppliers.

The chief economist of the manufacturers’ association EEF, Lee Hopley, claims ‘off-shoring’ is now “yesterday’s model”. EEF figures show that 40 per cent of manufacturers have brought some of their capacity back to the UK, up from one in seven companies in 2009.

The phenomenon isn’t confined to the UK. BBC correspondent Mark Mardell reported on Radio 4 at the weekend how US manufacturing giant General Electric has repatriated jobs from China to its vast plant in Louisville, Kentucky.”

And then there is Google: this looks at the idea of lead time of customizing the product in response to the customer demands:

Google Taking the Lead on “Reshoring” Movement?

One of Google’s newest products—the Nexus Q—has an interesting new feature. In addition to the futuristic design, the product has one, more unique, characteristic: It was manufactured in America.

As the New York Times reports, Google is beginning to experiment with shifting some of its manufacturing to the US. Bucking the trend in Silicon Valley, where nearly all manufacturing of small electronics has long since shifted to China, Google’s products have been manufactured entirely in a California factory, and nearly all of the components are American as well—which is also a rarity. Although this is only a test run, and will only be implemented on one of Google’s many products, a successful result could inspire Google—and others in Silicon Valley—to implement a similar process on more of its products. We have discussed the nascent phenomenon known as “reshoring” before on Via Meadia; Google’s decision shows that major companies, and in this case one of the most forward-thinking companies in the world, are engaged with the idea.

So, with 40% of UK businesses bringing production back to the UK are we ready. Do we have the following in place?

  • Quick response to customer changes
  • Removal of waste for shorter lead times and response to customer demands
  • Faster product to market
  • Flexible workforce
  • Managers as Leaders
  • Systems of improvement
  • Quick changeover
  • Waste free administration processes
  • A robust practical problem solving process
  • Fully engaged people
  • Clear value streams
  • Fully cascaded and bought into strategy at all levels
  • Strong linkage with suppliers and customers
  • LEAN…………
  • GREEN…….


Well there you go, let me know any thoughts you may have. 

Are you ready for reshoring? We are happy to come and discuss this with you. We will also help you in determining your lean maturity in readiness for ‘reshoring’.

Get in touch at:

The Problem with Lean: Evidence Towards a Solution

During the early summer of 2013 I conducted a survey of my 80,000 LinkedIn group members[1]as well as other similar LinkedIn groups. Within the sample, 23% described themselves as beginners, 46% as intermediate and 31% as advanced in their lean journeys.

This corresponded well with how long they had been applying lean in their organisation: 15% not yet started, 22% in their first year, 33% in their second or third year and 30% in their fourth year or further.

The two purposes of the survey were:

  1. To establish what issues or problems people have with their lean implementation activity and specifically what their single biggest problem was.
  2. What can we learn from this that might help make future lean improvements more effective.

Lean in Finance

The application of Lean thinking to the financial function and to financial processes represents new terrain for many Lean practitioners. However, the recent launch of our US business means that S A Partners can now add this to their list of market differentiators. The new US business led to the acquisition of two consultants with a background in the finance function. They have written several cases studies which reveal a flavour of the challenges that are likely to be met in the application of lean in finance. Common issues that companies face include: an accelerating rate of regulatory change; unmanageable forecast inaccuracies due to poorly understood assumptions and drivers and fragmented I.T. solutions.  The case studies draw on work that has been carried out in organisations as diverse as manufacturing to oil and gas to professional services. The benefits of a lean improvement approach have been found to manifest in far better decision-making as well as happier shareholders and employees. The approach S A Partners advocates is an holistic one in which engagement and behaviours are addressed as part of the improvement and in which automation through the use of software is used only after the manual process has proved streamlined, robust and effective. Why not find out more about our Financial Services offering.

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Defining the Indefinable

Earlier this month I posted a blog in which I stated that there is no clear definition of Lean in the literature. I was amused recently by a commentary by Joseph Paris in which he describes similar experiences to my own in trying to find a definition of operational excellence. He noted the same as me – how can you say if you have it if you can’t say what it is?

I recommend Joseph’s commentary but also offer a gentle critique:

What I really liked about it was the excellent definition of operational excellence he proposes along with clear explanation of what he exactly he means by each phrase used within that definition mean.

What I really disliked about it is that I had to trawl through lots of stuff (about his journey of discovery regarding other people’s failure to adequately define operational excellence) before getting to the good bit.

The lesson for Joseph here and probably an important reminder for all of us is: readers seldom linger as I did on Joseph’s commentary. So saving the best til last is a poor strategy in this age of information overload!