Are You On The Naughty Or Nice Lean List?

The traditional lean methodology as explained by Jim Womack from MIT was coined to describe Toyota’s business methodologies during the late 1980s. Since then, “lean” has grown from a business principle based on manufacturing to a methodology that can be employed in any industry. Being nice and lean can produce some amazing results that lead to better efficiencies and happier customers.

What is lean?

As the name implies, lean refers to a methodology originally used in production businesses to eliminate waste and focus on customer-added value streams by streamlining processes. Although lean processes have been around for thousands of years, it was only codified, named and outlined as previously stated in the 20th century. One of the core ideals in lean methodology is providing standardization which can be seen in production as far back as the first Chinese Emperor in 221 BC and the production of crossbows based on standardized parts. Even Toyota itself recognizes that during its research and improvement process, it studied the early assembly lines of Henry Ford and the Model T.

The core methodologies of lean include examining bloated business practices as associated with time, money and people. This wasteful examination is based on the assumption that any process that does not add value for the customer is wasteful. There are five core principles of lean:

  1. Identify value
  2. Map the value stream
  3. Create flow
  4. Establish pull
  5. Seek perfection

The true point of lean methodologies is to be able to produce more value with less resources therefore enhancing customer value and revenue.

Lean-ing the Right Way

In the world of business some departments, executives or accountants use lean to justify cost-cutting measures without truly understanding the use of a proper lean waste reduction plan. The right way to effectively implement lean principles within a company is to focus first on people. Without proper buy-in from the staff and employees within an organization the lean plan might as well be placed in the waste basket. To establish an organization’s readiness for lean program the culture of the business needs to be enhanced, educated and made aware of the end result. Employees and staff need to be actively engaged, providing input in order for them to take ownership of the plan. By effectively marketing the plan and implementing it after staff have taken ownership, lean principles will be established and followed. Proper implementation is the first key to a successful lean culture.

Mean Lean

Already hinted to above, a poor implementation of lean principles can backfire on an organization. Furthermore, if lean waste reduction principles are used as a cover for a finance department or corporate executives to cut staff and services internally within a company, morale and staff productivity will suffer as a result. Without employee or staff ownership of lean principles they simply become a front for cost cutting measures with no value added to the customer. The end result is poor customer service, worsening production or service ability and decrease in employee productivity.

Lean methodologies and principles can be a great way to enhance all aspects of the business. It does not matter if your company is a start-up, manufacturer or service type business, lean has been applied in all industries effectively. However poor implementation of lean principles can backfire and lead to poorer employee performance and increased waste in manpower.



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