The successful implementation of the Lean philosophy calls for strong and genuine commitment to change – the persistence to try again when things do not work out as planned. The significance of leadership and collaboration cannot be over-emphasised. A true change in culture has also always required changes to operating practices. So what new does it take to successfully apply the Lean philosophy in practice?

The first things that come to mind are focus on the value generated for the customer and the engagement of the whole personnel in the development of operations. There may a lot of talk about customers, but the customer value rarely guides practical operations or development. Organisations seem to easily adopt a ‘siloed’ customer approach. To put it in a pointed way, customers are only liaised with by means of requests for tenders, orders and invoices. The deeper meaning of customer value may remain entirely unrecognised.

Development has often been outsourced to a dedicated development organisation, for example, to a representative of the executive management or to an individual separately assigned to the task. Development is seen as the development of some kind of new tool to direct operations. ‘It’s not part of my job description’ is the all-too-frequently-heard answer when you ask the personnel about development. An immense development potential is lost, if we fail to humbly ask for ideas from those who really do the job. An initiatives box that echoes in its emptiness is not the same thing as asking. Neither is a fancy IT tool in the company intranet. Directors and supervisors must dare to ask the entire personnel how things could be done better. This calls for the kind of courage and respect of people that has not been customary in the Finnish work culture.

Fortunately, the aforementioned matters are delightfully often already recognised as important, and efforts are made to address them. However, I am surprised that only few have recognised the supplier network as one of their most important stakeholder groups. The supplier network must be perceived as an asset that is equally import as the personnel. Suppliers are still only managed with the price in mind without giving much thought to the costs. Nobody asks them for development ideas. This defies understanding.

Over a short period of time, I have studied two examples in which a company engaged in industrial production in Finland has repatriated its assembly production from the so-called lower cost level countries, because the total cost level was lower in Finland. This outcome was not reached by only looking at the price of a working hour, but through a determined development of the entire supply chain, in accordance with the Lean principles and by engaging all the parties involved in the development work. This means suppliers and subcontractors, in addition to the in-house personnel.

We must be capable of quickly recognising any needs for change and agility in executing those that are necessary. This cannot be carried out alone. It is silly indeed to presume that tomorrow’s future could be created with yesterday’s tools.

What could we do better? For example, start by asking from those around you how you could serve them. This is where the change begins.

Kalle Arsalo
Executive Director
Lean Association of Finland


Kalle Arsalo is the Executive Director of the Lean Association of Finland. The Lean Association of Finland is a non-profit seeking association of private individuals that seeks to raise Finland’ competitiveness to the highest international level by means of the principles of Lean thinking. The association was founded in 2009 and it already has close to 400 Lean professionals from different sectors. Further information: