What Can Lean Do For You?

You’ll often hear companies talking about becoming more “lean” in their operations.  What does this really mean?  Doing more with less?  Working harder and longer hours with less people?  Actually, it is none of these.  “Lean” is really about creating a learning organization, and about learning how to deliver higher quality products and services at a lower cost.


What Lean Means

“Lean” is how to drive higher employee engagement, solve problems faster, and increase profits. Lean applies to any organization, not just manufacturing companies.  Lean is a way of thinking, acting, and improving. It’s a method of creating a learning organization to optimize operations, based on the idea of continuous improvement.  

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In Practice for 100 Years

The term “lean” was initially used to describe waste reduction within the Toyota Production System (TPS) in the 1980’s.  However, waste reduction is only one of the five main principles of lean.  The other four lean principles are direct observation of activities, connections and flows, systematic problem solving, establishing high agreement of both what and how, and the most important principle—creating a learning organization.  

Although the term dates only to the 1980s, the ideas have been in use for almost a century, dating back to Henry Ford and the Model T production system and his book written in 1926 titled “Today and Tomorrow”.  Overall, lean management styles use fewer resources and deliver greater value to their customers. Lean is a continuous improvement journey that involves the whole organization. 

Using the Lean Toolbox Correctly

Implementing a lean philosophy doesn’t mean simply applying the tools available. With many tools in the lean toolbox, we must use the correct tool for each situation and condition, or use no tool at all. Everyone in the organization should understand and use the five lean principles and four lean rules to guide their efforts in improvement and tool use.

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