"Lean is a management philosophy that strengthens an organization's culture of improvement allowing them to identify and eliminate wasted effort in order to provide customers with the highest value possible."
When I help companies implement Lean into their organizations, the above is what I am trying to accomplish. The organization is trying to improve (costs, revenues, profits, morale, lead times, etc.) and I help them do that by focusing on the three main elements of that definition:
- Strengthen the improvement culture
- Identify and eliminate waste
- Provide customers with the highest value possible
Lean recognizes 8 forms of waste that are the target for elimination in any organization (7 if you're a die-hard original Lean fan): defects; overproduction; waiting; not utilizing people's knowledge, skills, and abilities; transportation; inventory; motion; excess processing. The idea is to teach associates at all levels of the organization how to recognize these wastes and then empower them to find ways to eliminate them. What you're left with is all of the activities that add value to the product or service your customer wants.
Lean has some specific "tools", if you will, that target specific causes of waste. There are many, including Value Stream Mapping (visually representing and analyzing material and information flow), Total Productive Maintenance (TPM - removing the waste of poorly functioning equipment), SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Die - shortening the changeover time between product / service types), Kanban (controlling inventory through signals), etc. I won't go into a full detail of each tool, nor will I list all of the tools, as I don't think that it's necessary for the newbie to comprehend them all at this moment within this specific blog. We'll add detail on the tools in a later blog. Let it be said, however, that there are a plethora of very specific tools to use when and if the need arises. Lean teaches us to use the best tool that solves a specific problem.
So there you have it. Lean demystified for you. People have made millions of dollars teaching this stuff over the years. I've made a few (dollars not millions) myself. The truth is that it isn't rocket science. There are a few tips and tricks that those of us that have been in the trenches for a few years have gleamed, but it's really simple stuff. You don't need a pricey software package with weeks of training on how to use it to use Lean concepts. You don't need a fancy certification to make you qualified to implement Lean either (although they are available and actually a great addition to any resume). You don't even need my insights. I learned it all over the last 25 years and so can you. Heck, I'm still learning. If you are looking for organizational improvement, Lean may be just your ticket. Check it out. What do you have to lose? Except maybe a few hundred wasted efforts that are bogging down your processes. :-)