What Is Lean Thinking?
Lean Thinking, or just “Lean” is a continuous improvement system that aligns everyone in the organization to improve processes: everybody, every day systematically solving problems. Lean teaches everyone in the organization how to better identify performance gaps, get down to their root causes, devise effective and efficient countermeasures, and make improvements stick. Lean accelerates an organization’s transformation from good to great.
Lean works in all functions and departments, across all organizations, public and private, and everything people do, work processes or at home. Lean applies wherever resources (time, energy, materials, or information) are used to produce goods or services – in other words, lean applies everywhere.
Lean Thinking was developed from the Toyota Production System, and versions of Lean have been used since just after World War II. Lean is not a management fad – Lean is a proven approach for getting better results.
What Lean is Not:
Lean is not about just working harder. Lean is about working smarter. Processes improved with lean are not only better for the customer and the organization, but for the people who work in the organization. Employees’ ideas are converted into improvements that create better performance results. Processes are simpler, more reliable and consistent, more rewarding, and hassle-free. In lean, everybody wins.
Lean is not just about cost-cutting. Lean is about providing better value to customers and constituents. Value has many components, including quality, flexibility, processing time, service, as well as cost. All measures on an organization’s performance can be improved through lean.
Lean is not about headcount reduction. When they hear the term “lean”, some might interpret it as thin, weak, or “taking away from.” A more appropriate image would be a nimble, strong, world class athlete. Lean principles include the twin pillars of Continuous Improvement and Respect for People. Lean efforts that result in people losing their jobs are misinformed and self-defeating.
Lean is not another top-down program. Lean deployment begins with top leadership buy-in, support, and active participation, but that is only the beginning. Lean gets done through bottom up involvement of people who do the work. Lean is more than a top-driven program. Lean is powered by the people who do the work.
Lean is not a temporary set of tools. The most highly successful lean organizations get their remarkable results when they approach lean as a change in organizational lifestyle. It is not like a toolbox, with tools you pull out from time to time and then put away. It is like quitting smoking or losing weight. It is a lifestyle change.