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Future Proof your Organization with Lean (Interview with Barry O’Brien)

by Joe Aherne

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Lean can be applied in any industry, but how does the approach change when working with small and medium-sized enterprises? We spoke with Barry O’Brien – a senior consultant at Leading Edge Group. He shared his experience of delivering Lean programs to unlock the potential that exists in these organizations.


Barry, could you please tell us how Leading Edge Group supports SME’s?

As of the last Census, there are nearly a quarter of a million businesses in Ireland that are small and medium-sized enterprises, employing 960,000 people, which represents a substantial amount of the workforce. We have worked with over 170 SME’s or micro companies in Ireland over the last 5 years. This work involves mentoring and supporting the implementation of a Lean initiative, funded by the local government.

These projects have had significant successes in helping companies to protect, sustain and grow their businesses in a more efficient manner through adopting Lean and operational excellence practices. Examples of these initiatives include a deep dive analysis of cost of sales and inventory management; implementing standard operating procedures and standard work; analyzing demand patterns over a 3-year period to reduce variation in planning; improved workplace organization and optimized post sales service.

What is different about implementing Lean in a SME compared to a multinational? 

When we are supporting a large multinational, we are typically not dealing with the general manager, the finance director and operations manager all at the same time. We are focused on a particular zone or area of the business.

In the case of SMEs, we are engaging with all these roles because they are generally held by the same person. In the one single session, we could be addressing a diverse range of areas – for example, space in the warehouse, purchasing strategy and human resources. That is challenging because you are taking quite a large percentage of that person’s bandwidth for the week and they must free up their time to fully engage in the process. We have seen fantastic success stories where people have really engaged and are committed to transforming how they do business.

Lean Start and Lean Plus funded programmes are available for Enterprise Ireland companies and the Lean Start offer now also covers a Digitalisation Evaluation of your business.

If you would like to know more about how Lean can transform your SME, please contact the Leading Edge Group today by clicking here.


Joe Aherne Photo
Joe Aherne

CEO of Leading Edge Group

Joe qualified as a Certified Public Accountant in 1982. It was a decision that reaped great benefits for Joe, providing him with an international recognized qualification which allowed him to follow in his father and grandfathers’ footsteps who had both worked and lived abroad. Having qualified as a CPA, Joe took up financial positions in the Middle East and UK.

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