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Flevy Author Spotlight: Our Interview with Lean Pioneer, Vishnu Rayapeddi

Lean Management has been an area of increasing interest for Flevy customers.   As of now, we have over 300 documents related to various Lean concepts and Vishnu Rayapeddi contributed close to 100 of these documents–with a focus on training series.  Vishnu is a pioneer of Lean Management, combining the power of Lean Thinking, Six Sigma, Balanced Scorecard, and other best-class methodologies, like Standard Work, JIT, and Kanban.  He ran a training institution focused on teaching people Lean for a decade and, during this time, interacted with many world-renown Lean experts.  Most of the documents used by his training institution are now available on Flevy.

In this interview with Vishnu, we learn not only more about his background and experience in Lean, but better understand the applications of Lean and challenges of its implementation.

People in the field recognize you as a pioneer in Lean Management.  Can you tell us a bit more?

Sure, I have been involved in continuous improvement for nearly 30 years and this started with a project on inventory management when I was an undergraduate in 1985, where I showed over INR 450,000 savings. I never looked back since then. Wherever I worked, I always used to look for improvement opportunities. Without knowing the word “lean,” I have implemented a number of Lean concepts over the years, such as 5S, Visual Systems, Standard Work,  Kanban, Set-up reduction, and others. Lean is nothing but a common sense approach to me. But, unfortunately how common is common sense?

How long have you been training people in Lean?

As a Lean coach and consultant, for over 8 years, when I started Productivity Solutions Limited. But, before that, I have trained my team members for about 12 years or so.

You have a number of Lean training series and work presentations made available on Flevy.  Which of your products would you recommend to someone who has a basic understanding of Lean, but wants to become an expert on the topic?

If a person has basic understanding of Lean, I would suggest the Lean Leader Series, which is similar to Green Belt in Six Sigma.

You sponsored a talk by Dr. Jeffrey Liker, author of “The Toyota Way” in New Zealand.  What were some key takeaways from his workshop?

I would say that the first thing is “humility.” Every lean practitioner, by virtue of being a Lean Sensei, needs to be humble and modest in his or her approach.

Now, coming to the workshop takeaways, there are many. But some of these are: first, The Toyota Way Philosophy, how Toyota runs its business, based on the long term approach even at the cost of short term by focusing on “True North.”  Second, the way Toyota treats its people, even in the times of recession.  Many staff were retrained during the global financial crisis, rather than making lay offs.  Third, the way Toyota respects its staff.  Every staff member is trained in the scientific problem solving methodology using PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle and is given an opportunity to participate in projects to improve further

Has becoming a Lean practitioner affected the way you approach situations that arise outside the workplace?

Sure, it did. I see most situations and analyse them thoroughly before coming to conclusions. Also, I use the “continuous improvement” concept in my personal situations.

Can Lean principles be applied to any industry?

Yes, definitely. Lean is a set of principles and practices and can be applied to any industry. The trick is to ensure that the application of Lean is in line with the needs and requirements of a particular situation. i.e., one needs to pick and choose the tools which can be used in a specific industry sector. Apart from the tools, the long-term philosophy,  focusing on true north, respecting people, problem solving methodology, etc. are applicable to every industry.

Can Lean be applied to any size organization?

Once again, yes. But, rather than rolling out Lean throughout the organisation in one go, it is advisable to implement it at one plant or site at a time and take the learning’s to another plant or site.

What’s the biggest challenge to implementing Lean?

In my experience, the biggest challenge is the “commitment” from the top management. When I say commitment, it’s not just about signing the checks or providing financial resources for Lean implementation. Lean is all about culture change. To bring about a culture change, the senior and top management should take part in the improvement projects, even if it is for a short duration. This is to emphasize to the front line staff that the senior management is committed to making it happen and Lean is not just for the shop floor staff–and it applies to everyone.

About David Tang

David Tang is an entrepreneur and management consultant. His current focus is Flevy, the marketplace for premium business documents (e.g. business frameworks, presentation templates, financial models). Prior to Flevy, David worked as a management consultant for 8 years. His consulting experience spans corporate strategy, marketing, operations, change management, and IT; both domestic and international (EMEA + APAC). Industries served include Media & Entertainment, Telecommunications, Consumer Products/Retail, High-Tech, Life Sciences, and Business Services. You can connect with David here on LinkedIn.

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