Businesses must get Brexit-ready - that means being Lean
How fitting it was that, when more than 700 industry leaders got together for a major business conference last month, Croke Park was the venue. The central theme of the Enterprise Excellence Ireland 2017 event was how to be match-fit and ready to compete internationally, using Lean methodologies.
Lean is a proven business practice that continuously delivers greater value for businesses while using fewer resources. Enterprise Excellence Ireland 2017 brought together industry leaders, from small indigenous businesses to major multinationals, to discuss how the implementation of Lean management systems in their organisations does just that.
Some 36 national and international keynote speakers provided insights into this transformational practice.
Now an annual event, Enterprise Excellence Ireland 2017 has successfully positioned Ireland as a world leader in Lean business.
Speakers included Dell EMC, Volkswagen, Lufthansa, the NTMA, Dairygold and Mondelez International. They ranged from manufacturing businesses, such as Toyota, which created Lean, to services businesses, such as the Irish tour operator Topflight.
The event saw the launch of Lean Business Ireland (leanbusinessireland.ie). An online community and resource, it includes case studies from Lean business practitioners, Lean supports from government agencies, access to academic researchers of Lean, representative bodies, such as Ibec and Lean Construction Ireland, and a directory of consultants with Lean expertise. The site is strongly supported by Enterprise Ireland and the IDA, working together for the national interest.
The aim is to provide any business that wishes to pursue Lean with a comprehensive source of information, leadership and direction. The launch is the result of a national groundswell of interest in this proven business methodology. More than ever, Irish business people want to find ways to build a future through operational excellence of the kind that Lean delivers. And it does deliver.
Having launched its first Lean programmes in 2009, Enterprise Ireland sees the impact it has on business performance on a daily basis, in hundreds of companies, across a range of metrics from greater sales and productivity to increased employment.
The ancient Irish notion of the 'meitheal' perhaps best describes the sense of solidarity we are seeing across Ireland Inc, particularly in relation to the Brexit challenge. It's as if Irish businesses are saying to one another: "We are a gang, we have to help each other."
With Lean, that help comes in the form of a boost to the bottom line. It is about finding ways to be more efficient and effective, of building the capability and capacity of your people and processes. It's about identifying problems and coming up with solutions.
What LeanBusinessIreland.ie does is bring together all the parties with the interest and the expertise required to help Ireland Inc push forward by sharing knowledge and supporting one another. For businesses, the website is a way of finding out what good looks like, of discovering myriad ways to improve.
Many of the speakers at Croke Park were international prize winners from the European Foundation for Quality Management or Shingo - an international award that recognises operational excellence. The fact that Ireland has the highest number of Shingo award winners per capita in the world shows just how successful the country has been in positioning itself as a leader in Lean business.
With Brexit, the need to be internationally competitive has come into sharp focus, particularly as Irish businesses look to diversify their overseas markets. But other shocks will follow. What Lean does is get each player - or process - on your team fighting fit and ready to take on not just the challenge facing us now, but the challenges of the future too.
Richard Keegan is manager of the competitiveness department at Enterprise Ireland and adjunct assistant professor in the Business School at Trinity College Dublin
Sunday Indo Business