”Lean” is a well known and scientifically proven idea that has transformed businesses for decades – a methodology for focusing on what is really important. According to my guest this week – Lean business expert Michelle Leong – Being Lean means living efficiently and not wasting time, energy and money on the unimportant. I caught up with Michelle recently to find out more about Being Lean. Hi Michelle!
Hello! I’m Michelle. I’m a self-confessed Lean fanatic & dedicated Lean practitioner with almost 20 years’ experience in changing people’s lives and businesses for the better. I am a very health-conscious keen traveller, a monumental food & drinks fan and it may be a midlife crisis thing but I make every effort to look good for myself all the time. My quest for perfection in living life to the fullest makes my staunch advocacy and adoption of Lean in everyday life inevitable & necessary.
Your book, “Being Lean”, is truly inspirational. What made you decide to write your book in the first place?
Actually, Being Lean is the result of my laziness and impatience about doing things twice or taking the long way around. It is basically all about how I increase productivity of my fun time. I hate housework, I hate exercising, I like, but don’t love work. This book is 20 years of how I managed to do lesser of what I don’t enjoy AND still get the same if not better results.
I was already naturally organised, I’m a keen planner, I’m a fantastic time manager but it was only when I started using Lean as a methodology & a structured approach, that I realised that all this time, I’ve been so effective in wasting my time & effort. I was basically just tidying up clutter, when clutter is clutter no matter how neat they are.
I’m a terrible person. I remember secretly judging my colleagues & peers, all those years, for not being truly Lean. I felt they only do it at work, like switching the lights on & off. Outside of work, I remember thinking “what process slobs” they are 😜! I’ve been collecting scribbles & thoughts along the way, knowing I had to put it on paper in a structured manner…to boast about my processes if anything! I only actually sat down to write this book at lockdown.
Lean is a well known and scientifically proven idea – a methodology for focusing on what is really important, and being lean means living efficiently, using time and energy and money effectively … when did you first realise this empowerment that being lean can have over businesses and life in general?
Lean has been around & popularised here in the West by the car manufacturing industry since the very early 90s. Thanks to discovering Lean 10 years later for my work in construction that I’ve been living Lean for almost 20 years. I started consciously applying the methodology “Doing Lean” for work mainly but once I got my Lean glasses on, it felt applicable to all processes including outside of work. Gradually, I evolved to doing Lean outside of work and since then evolved again to “Being Lean” i.e. naturally rather than contrived.
Your book is jammed pack with hints and situations which will help to apply the lean approach in all aspects of life – workplace, wardrobe, home life, travel food and health- even down to sorting your laundry! I was quite pleased to see that my method of sorting out washing being endorsed! Were there any aspects of writing “Being Lean” that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to write about than you expected?
I realised that applying Lean to work is SO much easier. There are many relevant examples and much expertise out there for us to learn from and even duplicate. At the same time, we are held accountable for our productivity and quality of work so we do it more consistently as it is necessary for our livelihood. We push ourselves more and we try harder. Whereas, privately, we only have to account to ourselves. There are no immediate consequences, or if there are, we deem them to be of less magnitude as time loss is less apparent than the loss of cold hard cash from a paycheque. Hence, application of Lean outside of work is so much less consistent. I am actually surprised after-the-fact that I have enough to structure this book in a coherent and hopefully, easy to follow way. When I finished it, I felt incredibly lucky that I had been doing Lean for such a long time and so consistently that I was able to follow through, fill out that many chapters and achieve the flow.
You have been advising businesses on lean practices for 20 years and you were part of the team that introduced lean to the construction industry in a government funded Construction Lean Improvement Programme (CLIP). What sort of lean recommendations were introduced?
We started from scratch with Construction. Everyone was strongly sceptical. CLIP offered the industry free consultancy & lean projects hoping to get wide uptake of the thinking & practice. We went out touting companies to apply Lean to their construction projects. Construction teams are dynamic & they change with each project so you can imagine how difficult it is to achieve sustainable organisational results. You keep starting from scratch with each new project, teaching them the theory & methodology then applying it practically on site – learning by doing. We persevered & slowly noticed the difference when project percentages slowly evolved from 90% on building sites & 10% in boardrooms to 50%-50%. This meant the industry was starting to adopt the Lean approach of looking at the bigger picture, doing a diagnostic i.e., identifying waste in the process & doing the business case of prioritising where best to invest in improvement efforts. It’s always leaner eliminating waste further upfront the process when they aren’t as big, before they snowball & become more expensive problems down the line i.e., manifests when you are actually constructing the building.
What aspects of Being Lean did you personally find hardest to adopt and adapt into your own lifestyle? What aspects did you find easiest to incorporate?
As human beings, we rotate towards the easiest to do. For me, with Lean, it was a gradual process. It started out with huge concerted effort to learn & then to do. But with each effort, like everything one does, it got easier & the interest grew because the benefits prevailed & I wanted to know more. It became a challenge to be better at it & a lifestyle and quest to make as much of my processes leaner. Suddenly, I’ve become anal retentive, which I take as a compliment. I have to say it is a creep process & still creeping! Unlike weight creeping up with age, this is a positive creep from flexing & using the Lean muscle. I just transitioned from consciously Doing Lean to Being Lean. I ended up getting flow in my processes without thinking about it. I see waste & combat them bit by bit, it’s no effort for me but might be a crazy effortful to a beginner. Whatever my processes are now, it’s taken 20 years of Being Lean. I’ve even process mapped my relationship, doing risk analysis to look for issues & their impacts. I use root cause analysis to manage my “flare-ups” to maintain that precious relationship. I’ve just celebrated my 31st year anniversary with my husband 🥰😎.
Growing up, what career aspirations did you have?
I was born in Singapore & became a “Singapore Girl” (flight stewardess) very young at 18 so never “had time” to aspire to be anything else. I regretted not going into higher education then as there was no such thing as mature student in Singapore in those days. Once the opportunity passed you by, it’s gone! Thankfully I met my husband & got a second chance when I moved to Sweden in the very early 90s. I learnt the language & took the university entrance exam & never looked back. It is thanks to this, that life led me to Lean.
Is “Being Lean” available to purchase worldwide?
The book is available for sale on Amazon & many bookshops like Waterstones online. On the Being Lean website, the hardcopy is available worldwide, IF one is willing to pay postage at cost. The e-book is available on the website for download wherever you are in the world & the audiobook is underway and will be available on the website soon.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
When applying Lean Thinking to our Health. Lean states that ill-health & bad lifestyle are defects in a System, our System. Whether it is self-inflicted or due to circumstances or environment, the point here is not to blame but to find out why. What are the wastes & what are the root causes? If we apply the methodology & use the Waste Glasses, we will get a diagnostic of the causes of these defects so we can work on preventing or managing them. I’ve worked really hard on my health & fitness. As an outcome of Being Lean, I’ve been fasting & lifting heavy weights for the past 10 years. I am at my tippest-toppest condition having just turned 50 this year and planning to keep it that way.
I adopt the Lean visual management tool to maintain status. My wardrobe has been designed to induce my correct behaviour. I no longer have baggy clothes that allow me to hide the consequences of long-term unhealthy living or bad choices, whether this is food, fitness or the mental confidence to rock an outfit. I only wear snug clothes to restrict the amount I can indulge in. Snug clothing visually displays quickly and obviously when I over indulge in one meal but also when I have been lax over a longer period. This triggers me to rein things back. My reward for the consistency is looking & feeling strong & powerful.
I have been wearing a LBD (little black dress), benchmarking (a Lean tool) for my 40th, 45th & 50th birthday. We’ll see if it fits on my 55th!
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?
I used to shop quantity above quality & have loads of unused clothes that I’m still going through. Nowadays, I only shop online and for specific style/design that I know flatters me and I never follow trends. I’ve taken on board the Lean concept of modular dressing i.e., having a few different basic accessories & layers of clothing, mixing/matching & getting triple the look from them to suit all occasion & seasons. I’ve got a few websites bookmarked including The Outnet, Joli Closet, TK Maxx, Selfridges (when on sale), occasionally ASOS etc. and charities like Sea Shepherd, which don’t have much of what I want to wear but I buy for presents periodically to give them support.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
I’ve got more clothes & shoes enough to wear a different outfit every day of the week! But I’m also a huge accessories person so I’ve got a couple of items on my wish list currently including a Gucci Lionhead gold-toned brass and bead ring & Maje’s Precious Day of the Week ring.
Boots or Shoes?
I’m a wedge (ankle & knee) boots for autumn/winter & wedge sandals for summer, kind of gal. Wedge being key because it started with me having plantar fasciitis from training too much and not being able to wear flat shoes. Now I can’t be without them because they are very Being Lean! It allows me to not compromise on “quality” as they are comfortable, looks good (feminine the way I like it) & gives me the height to make me look tall & slender. I can walk on wedges for hours on a glorious fun London shopping day out! I’ve got 3 colours of the same Hush Puppies wedge sandals that are very comfortable.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
Personal Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011056549136
Being Lean Website: https://beinglean.net
Being Lean Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/beinglean.net
LeanPac Website: https://www.leanpac.co.uk
LeanPac Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/LeanPaccouk-1614091645336481
LinkedIn Page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelle-leong-94837918/
My thanks to Michelle for agreeing to be interviewed and to Ben Cameron of Cameron Publicity for a copy of Michelle’s book “Being Lean”. All photographs have been published with kind permission of Michelle Leong (apart from the Pinterest & header pics which are by Linda Hobden)