Industry Leaders

CEO and Chairman, Lean Enterprise Institute, USA CEO and Chairman, Lean Enterprise Institute, USA

John Shook

"Seminars and events serve an important role in sharing new information to large audiences and creating awareness of changes in an industry or sector."

February, 2016

The Honorary Chairman of Minexcellence 2016 talks about how the Lean Enterprise Institute works with executives from different industries. 

What are the main issues in operational excellence within the mining industry around the world?

My background is not in the mining industry, but I work with executives across many industries to help them look at their customers, market, products, and organization through new lenses.

When I speak with people with experience in the mining industry, they talk about how the industry is capital intensive, requiring a long time to develop producing assets (sometimes decades). It operates in challenging, sometimes unsafe, conditions, such as remote locations, high altitude, and harsh environments (such as deep underground, extreme cold or heat). As such, it is a conservative industry, with traditional management structures and leadership styles. They cite the following as major issues:

- Sustaining competitiveness through the cycles of high and low commodity prices

- Improving productivity in a systemic way 

- Developing a culture of continuous improvement

- Acquiring, developing, and retaining talent

- Developing and adopting innovative approaches

What can mining companies do in order to improve their performance? 

Lean thinking challenges organizations to start with the work and ask how the work is connected to delivering value to customers and serving the purpose of the business. Performance is improved via a relentless focus on identifying and solving problems -such as injuries, waste, underutilized resources, etc.- throughout the organization and developing a culture and management system that supports continuous improvement. The approach a company takes will be situational based on its current state and culture, but techniques include: 

- Challenge the underlying assumptions that drive business and operating strategies

- Break paradigms and functional silos, promote integration and horizontal flow of value to the customer

- Formulate and apply new management systems supported by new management and leadership behaviors 

- Develop continuous improvement strategies that address people development as the focal point of gaining and sustaining an attractive work environment and competitiveness

- Share learning and experiences of effective change throughout the organization 

How does the work at the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) help during these times of uncertainty that the mining industry is facing?

Typically, LEI works with companies that continue to struggle to improve performance. In many cases these companies have spent millions of dollars over many years, trying to improve using “top down, consultant-driven” programs. In some cases, leadership decides that a focus on the actual work of the company is needed to improve performance and turns to Lean thinking. Simply, LEI works with companies to focus on 5 key areas and questions:

- What is our purpose, what value do we create or what situational problem are we trying to solve? 

- How are we improving the actual work? 

- How are we developing capability?

- What management system and leadership behaviors are required to support the new way of working?

- What basic thinking, mindset, or assumptions underlie this transformation? 

Our approach can take many forms, but the most effective approach is to engage with a company on a business problem and coach them to see how problems with the work are connected to business performance and delivering value to the customer. LEI will not solve problems for a company, it will help develop problem solvers within the company to continuously improve.

How do the seminars, such as Minexcellence, contribute to the discussion of important mining issues?

Seminars and events serve an important role in sharing new information to large audiences and creating awareness of changes in an industry or sector. These events and the material produced and shared will help:

- Facilitate meaningful conversations

- Provide a forum for sharing experiences, learning and best practices

- Develop a community of practice