Lean is a series of tools that can be used to improve almost any business process. Those tools are things like 5S, Kaizens, Kan Bans, and Visual Metrics.
Lean is not simply doing the same things, the same way, with fewer people. Lean is a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste by flowing the product at the pull of the customer in pursuit of perfection.
By designing processes to increase material and information flow, the velocity at which the materials move through the system to generate revenue vastly improves while using the same or fewer resources. The resulting operational improvements of cost, quality, delivery, productivity, and safety can then be leveraged to gain market share, increase profits, and increase customer and shareholder satisfaction.
Lean is not about cutting staff and resources. Instead, it is about:
• Focusing people’s efforts creating value for the customer and eliminating waste.
• Speeding up the operation by eliminating idle time created by paperwork and bureaucracy.
A friend of mine asked a great question in response to one of my recent Lean books. His question was in essence how do you keep Lean initiatives moving ahead and not going the way of another flavour of the month program. We have all seen managers with the best intentions launch new initiatives that were supposed to be the wave of the future only to see them fizzle out after a few weeks or months. Lean initiatives are no different. Many organizations have tried Lean and either abandon it completely or don’t take it very far. So what makes the difference between companies that tried Lean and those that are leading the pack?
A successful launch of Lean is in some respects like getting lean with one’s weight. There are no quick fixes. There are no easy solutions and it takes work. You cannot make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight then go back to your old habits after a few weeks or months and expect to stay Lean. It takes discipline over the long haul.
If you try to drive a wood screw using a hammer, the result is going to be disappointing. If you try to use a trenching machine without proper training and safety equipment, you are likely to cut off your foot. So it is with the Lean tools; one needs to have the right tool for each application and be adept at using the tool properly to enjoy the benefits.