Lean Business

2010-03-20

What is “lean” or a “lean system”? There are as many definitions and descriptions as there are companies. You’ve heard of JIT, Kaizen, waste elimination, process improvement, TQM, and dozen of others that mostly refer to tools. Some of these definitions are incorrect; most are inadequate.

Lean is a system; it’s about rules. It’s about thinking. It’s not about tools, yet lean is most commonly defined by the tools - 7 Wastes, Standardization, 5 S’s, Kaizen, Cell Production, Visual Management, and more. These tools are simply the vehicles to enable lean. Lean Systems is about giving people at all levels of an organization the skills to systematically drive out waste through designing and improving work activities, interconnections, and flows throughout the organization. It is driving the skills of a learning organization toward real time learning nearest to the problem. It’s everyone contributing to solutions. It’s the way an organization thinks and subsequently acts, not what tools they can master. The tools are important - they provide the real life opportunity to experience and express the rules, but tools are not a system. Tools do not sustain an organization. Thinking sustains organizations. Ken Bowen and Steven Spear said it best in their Harvard Business Review article “The DNA of Toyota Production System”:

  • All work activities should be structured (content, sequence, timing and outcome) and testable (pass/fail).
  • Supplier/customer connections must be direct and double in requests and responses.
  • The pathway or flow for every product and service must be simple and direct.
  • Improvements to activities, interconnections and flows must be done as an experiment, at the lowest level possible, with the ideal state in mind.

If lean is new to your organization, we can help you master the tools of lean for immediate performance improvement. If you are mature in lean, we can help you reach the next plateau, mastering the rules of lean. Focus Strategic Solutions uses a proven “learn by doing” approach that consists of leadership development, cascade learning, simulations, learning lines/laboratories, and discovery designed to develop internal expertise and sustained improvement. A commitment to develop lean systems is a significant commitment but it is well worth the effort for both business and people. We can help.