On IKEA Pencil and the Lean lesson within

On IKEA Pencil and the Lean lesson withinSo, IKEA did it again – an excellent parody of the latest Apple launch (The Apple Pencil stylus). This is not the first time IKEA has used Apple parody in its advertisement, either, as last year they had a similar idea with the IKEA catalog launch, the Bookbook – i.e. just an ordinary book – the many virtues of which were elaborated on a spectacular video commercial.

In addition to the fun, there is a deep Lean lesson involved. And hey, given the context of this blog, that’s what I’m really interested in, so let’s take a look.

You think it’s about technology, but it’s not

With technological progress playing a major, and accelerating, role in the development of mankind, it is common for people in many companies to view improvement projects as IT projects. Trouble handling inventory? Install a new ERP system or tailor your current one. Trouble handling workflows? Install new task management software. Trouble handling processes? Install quality management system software.

Thing is, (continuous) improvement is not about technology. Technology is something you use to make things faster once you already know the solution – technology implementation project is not the place to invent the solution.

Toyota turning the tables upside down

Last year, a news item about Toyota spread to many media sites. Bloomberg, for example, ran the story with the catchy title Humans Replacing Robots Herald Toyota’s Vision of Future. Obviously, the title had little to do with reality – robots were not going anywhere. What was really happening was that Toyota had realized that they needed to understand the work more deeply in order to be able to get the most out of machines.

Mitsuru Kawai, a Toyota employee running the program, commented then: “We cannot simply depend on the machines that only repeat the same task over and over again … To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine.” By the way, Mr. Kawai received a major promotion this year for his efforts, so I guess the results have continued to be good.

Lean is about doing what works

The IKEA bookbook and IKEA Pencil can also help illustrate another Lean lesson. Lean is about doing what works. If you can get by with a whiteboard, you do not have to buy a tablet just because that’s the cool thing. If you have a team that’s working remotely things might be a lot different and you might actually need those tablets, but even then, if you can’t get a local team to collaborate with a whiteboard, you don’t stand much of a chance to get a remote team to collaborate with tablets.

So, while the IKEA ads are funny, they also serve to remind us of these simple lessons: improvement is not about technology, it is about understanding the issue deeply and then doing what works. And just like the IKEA Pencil, doing what works often ends up being entirely free, and not a million dollar IT project.


Photo: IKEA pencil by IKEA


Author: Ville Kilkku

I run my own consultancy business, so if you find the ideas on this blog intriguing, contact me at consulting@kilkku.com or call me at +358 50 588 5043 and we can discuss how I can help you solve your business problems. I am currently based in Finland, but work globally.