• Russell Watkins

Lean transformation: “Traveler, there is no road; you make your own path as you walk” (#53)

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

The title of this blog is a line from a poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. He died in 1939 so would have no idea that his poem “Traveler, your footprints” holds a key lesson for strong lean thinking (and life!). The poem (translated by Mary Berg and Dennis Maloney) goes a bit like this:

Traveler, your footprints

are the only road, nothing else.

Traveler, there is no road;

you make your own path as you walk.

As you walk, you make your own road,

and when you look back

you see the path

you will never travel again.

Traveler, there is no road;

only a ship's wake on the sea.

“Traveler, there is no road; you make your own path as you walk” are the lines that resonate for a lean transformation. Lean is situational, the steps you take to improve a manufacturing company depend on a massive range of variables. For example, customer pain OR the financial position OR the capability of the people OR the capability, condition and complexity of the processes OR the product range, OR, OR, OR.

The skill of the lean thinker lies in helping the team to understand what to try to improve, in what order. In other words, to locate and size the most useful experiments to tackle the ‘pain’ (or capitalise on the ‘gain’) that the business faces.

Machado was right, there is no set road to becoming lean, the road is made by each company that walks it. Their personal road. Of course, there are broad building blocks – don’t hurt your people, having a product portfolio that makes money in aggregate, collect the voice of the customer, make your processes basically stable – but the road is unique.

“Copy and paste” lean programmes won’t and don’t work. I’ve seen it, tried it and bear long faded scars to remind me of the pain.

However, there are a number of questions and observations that helpfully indicate (1) how mature, in lean terms, your manufacturing business is and (2) whether you are headed somewhere useful.

The reasoning being; if you know where you are, you can navigate to a better place. This is why we’ve spent a lot of time at Sempai putting together a “How Lean are you?” scorecard, 33 questions, across 4 categories for a 5 minute investment of time. We’ll even send you a personalised report to guide you to the next steps.

The 4 categories cover:

1. Driving your business forward - How clear is your vision for a lean future?

2. Knowing where you are - How lean is your plant/factory currently?

3. Looking in the mirror - How lean is YOUR thinking & behaviour

4. Assessing your team - How capable is your current team?

I’d invite any leaders in manufacturers out there to complete the scorecard here – simply considering the questions will challenge your path and give a little insight.

"Traveler, there is no road; you make your own path as you walk”, so let Sempai help you to start walking somewhere useful.


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