“Lean is hard work that makes everything easy” – A coffee with Andrew Parris, Medair, Switzerland

26 March 2018

In our previous coffee with Andrew, he shared his ideas on how humanitarian NGOs can learn from the corporate world in the area of continuous improvement. This time, we caught him in Lebanon, where he is collecting data for Medair’s self-assessment against the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS). He shares his thoughts on getting started with Lean, some of his favourite online resources and the training that he is offering to other NGOs.

Let’s say I work in a humanitarian NGO and I want to start applying Lean and pursuing Process Excellence in my organisation. What should I do?

Start with learning, practice and coaching:

  1. Learn the theory and practices of Lean through training, reading books, online study. You can find great online resources, some of which I will tell you about momentarily.
  2. Apply what you are learning. This requires risk, courage, humility, creativity and determination. Start by documenting how you do your work, if that’s not yet been done. Organise your work area, label things. Begin to make small improvements.
  3. Seek coaching. Everyone learns faster with an experienced, wise coach who asks thought-provoking questions and who provides valuable insights. I still benefit from corporate world Lean experts who help me pro bono.

And what if I want my organisation to take on Lean or continuous improvement as a strategic initiative?

It’s not easy, but it yields great rewards if done well. The following points outline some initial key success factors:

  • Get commitment and active participation from senior leadership. Senior leaders must expect and ask for continuous improvement from everyone. They must also grow in their understanding and application of Lean, and coach their teams to make improvements.
  • Develop a no-blame culture that promptly identifies problems and solves them at root cause
  • Equip and inspire everyone to make improvements
  • Manage processes by mapping and documenting them, identifying and measuring key performance indicators, and improving performance
  • Understand customer value; identify and eliminate the waste that hinders value creation
  • Organise the workplace, making work visual and preventing mistakes
  • Use short workshops to analyse and improve key problematic processes
  • Document and celebrate improvement stories (with “before” and “after” measurements)

That sounds like a lot!

It is! As Lean champion Paul Akers says, “Lean is hard work that makes everything easy.”Speaking of Paul, I highly recommend listening to his inspiring book 2 Second Lean. It’s free to download. Paul reads it himself, and his passion is compelling.

The Lean Enterprise Institute in the US and the related Lean Global Network both have a “What is Lean?” video, valuable online resources and educational newsletters (Lean Post and Planet Lean). They also host Lean learning conferences across the globe. One can take a free eight-hour Lean Six Sigma training here. One may register with Lean4NGO, a network of Lean professionals and NGOs who share a common goal of applying Lean in the NGO context. There are too many other great online resources to mention.

And you are also offering some of your Lean training to other humanitarian organisations?

Yes! I would be glad for others to join the one-day Process Excellence Energiser training on Tuesday, 24 April at Medair in Ecublens, near Lausanne. I also plan to hold five days of “Lean Green Belt” training in May and June. I would like to have a handful of people from other NGOs join us – we already have two from outside Medair. Lastly, I am also eager to hear from other humanitarian players pursuing Lean and other forms of process improvement, to develop a European network of sharing and learning.

For more information, you can reach Andrew at: andrew.parris@medair.org and +41 078 696 42 98.