London Underground's lean transformation event Birmingham

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Posted by APM on 29th May 2014

Graeme Shaw, London Underground’s internal ‘pioneer’ in continuous improvement and Jim Abbatt, the architect of the ‘lean transformation programme’, gave a highly entertaining presentation of their ground-breaking initiative that saved over 11 million pounds and streamlined 90 processes to members of the Midland Branch at Colmore Gate in Birmingham, hosted by volunteers David Lloyd and Adrian Turner.

In 2008 the challenge was to deliver upgrades of assets at 148 tube stations. Jim explained that the issue with long projects such as London Underground (LU) projects is how to tell people that they’ve done a job well done. Using a list of common reasons for project failure they realised that they needed to change the culture and to break down silo-working.

They set-up an initiative which would temporarily take individuals away from their daily tasks in order to create teams of empowered, energised and change-making employees. The culture change would see encouragement for people to ‘make small mistakes’, and to ‘fail whilst trying to do something good’. This required many bureaucratic obstacles to be hurdled in order to get the initiative off the ground.
 
They called the initiative the ‘lean transformation programme’ and split the course into 2 separate weeks in order to allow attendees to go back to work in between to observe/apply what they learned. Jim explained how they recruited individuals with differing attitudes to change for their management group - their ‘12 disciples’. The ‘lean breakthrough event’ was designed to make quick improvements by encouraging problem-solving using more scientific processes and methods.

The group was encouraged to pick their own area to work on, further empowering the ‘on-site’ staff and removing micro-management (by management ‘getting-out-of-the-way’). Graeme spoke about many of the examples of successful improvements, including the removal in one instance of 7 levels of inspection. The inclusion of both day and night shift workers helped break down barriers between them to the effect that downtime was minimised and efficiencies were made where equipment being used didn’t actually do anything!

Members took away the message that empowerment at lower levels is key and that the critical role for management is to provide a vehicle in which operational staff are given the skills, time, and (most importantly) the encouragement to identify and address waste.

Andrea Pisoni, service business executive at Rolls-Royce, attending the event said: “…very interesting. It actually convinced me once more that improvements need simultaneously a top-down and bottom-up approach. Actually also the middle management needs to be involved, which potentially can be the trickiest part of the job because of the shift in power that this involves.”

Rob Heaton (@PathwayProds) also attended and commented that “the event was very informative and insightful.”

Their presentation can be seen below. 

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