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COVID-19 Crisis & Lean: Why, How and What!?!

Finally, we are on the verge of letting 2020 end! On very few occasions, people wait to ring in the New Year with such eagerness as now! It doesn’t mean that 2021 will be a bed of roses. COVID-19 is a crisis of unprecedented proportions. Like people, businesses too have to adopt long-term plans to reduce the impact, stabilise and grow. At RAPIDD Academy, we recently had a discussion with our esteemed business partner, Mr. Anand Deshpande about what role Lean Crisis Management can play in all this!

Mr. Deshpande is an excellent consultant, educator, mentor and author in Lean, Six Sigma and related subjects, having several years of association with Fortune 500 companies like Ford & Deutsche Bank. In his opinion, Lean Management is a much broader and deeper subject than what is commonly understood.

He was describing how Lean thinking can help us reduce the impact of COVID-19. Here are some interesting snippets from our discussion:

How does Lean define a crisis?

Crises don’t happen once in a while. We ignore the smaller crises and fall in trap of the larger ones. Crises are always present. Some of the types of crisis in the automobile industry are as follows:

a) Glitch
b) Breakage
c) Outage

Let’s have clarity about glitch, breakage and outage, with the help of a simple case-study. We can define any irregular occurrence in terms of 3 types described below.

Case Study: You have prepared a cup of your favourite filter coffee, after some challenging hours at work. The kitchen is filled with that amazing nutty aroma, and you are excited to have your first sip. You pick up the glass, unmindful of the high temperature of the coffee. What will happen next? A few of the possibilities are:

a) Glitch: You could put down the glass of coffee hurriedly, yet safely.
b) Breakage: The glass could slip out of your fingers, and the coffee spills on the floor.
c) Outage: The coffee is spilled on the floor, and that was the last glass of your favourite coffee brand, available in your home.


a) Glitch: You thank your luck that you could withstand the initial shock of coming into contact with a high-temperature coffee glass. You didn’t spill the coffee around, and saved both your coffee. Your mood is alright!
b) Breakage: You clean up the floor and prepare another glass of coffee.
c) Outage: You clean up the floor and go to the nearest departmental store to buy your choicest brand.

The Lesson Learned

You should always wrap a cotton napkin around a hot glass of coffee and then pick it up.

How to overcome Why crises?

Our first reaction towards a critical situation is to repair and resume. Lean trains us to focus on crises – small, medium or big – and ask “Why?”

For example, instead of how not to spill a glass of hot coffee, Lean will help you see the underlying cause! Maybe you keep forgetting to wrap a cotton napkin around a glass of hot coffee!

Lean also trains us to identify similar, repetitive occurrences. As you identify the root causes, you can prevent future mishaps by lowering the risk factors.

What is Lean Crisis Management?

In a nutshell, it is all about coping with crises, big and small, in a much better way. Let’s analyse the COVID crisis from the Lean perspective.

COVID Crisis and Lean

In the COVID context, Lean will ask us to understand human nature first. Thus, it helps us to react sensibly. At last, it encourages us to learn at every step. When the COVID crisis struck, the world was gripped with fears of an uncertain present and future.

Instead of looking at the scope of damage from COVID-19, Lean turns our focus on the sector that is directly affected by the pandemic, the human being. Our first priority is to recognise, acknowledge and understand the multipronged fear, lurking in people’s minds.

A: Set Up A Chain of Help

People are facing new challenges in their line of duty. Working from home, social distancing, self-quarantine etc., have made daily-life a topsy-turvy one. Many hitherto unknown challenges have emerged before us.

A chain of help can include the establishment of better and quicker communication channels like hotline numbers or a more compassionate human resource department, etc. Employees should know, to whom to approach in case, they suffer from any fear or anxieties.

B: Build A Response Plan

We know about war rooms. In war rooms, plans are shown to military leaders and strategies are formed on how to implement and execute the plans. During World War II, the UK had built the earliest known war rooms of the modern era.

One top concern that was solved then was how to protect the country’s vast coastline! War rooms were crucial for quick gathering of vital information and to rapidly mobilise the fighter planes towards the enemy lines.

Obeya is like a war room for lean practitioners around the globe. Here the silos are dissolved and employees are encouraged to collaborate spontaneously, during emergencies.

C: Close Coordination between the Management & Executive

The management should play a key role during COVID-19 like crises. They should facilitate the processes that solve new sets of challenges.

They should also organise frequent meetings with employees who are dealing with such challenges. The management should suggest alternative plans to get through the bottlenecks.

The Gist of Our Discussion

As we wrapped up our discussion with Mr. Deshpande, we got a clear understanding of the importance of Lean Crisis Management. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about how crisis management the Lean-way can offer far better results than usual knee-jerk responses from rigid corporate methods.

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