What is Lean?

To answer the question, what is Lean, you first have to imagine a group of business processes with a lot of steps in them. After all, business is a combination of processes. Each process has multiple steps that get the process from start to finish. We call a business process with lots of time consuming steps a "fat" process. Therefore, a business process that is straight to the point and purely value adding, with very little time and steps involved is a "lean" process.

The term Lean was popularized by James Womack and Daniel Jones in their book, "Lean Thinking". Originally known as Lean Manufacturing, the technique grew to be used more and more in non-manufacturing processes as people realized its power. Today, most people simply call it Lean. To learn more about the History of Lean, please click here.

Lean is a simple strategy of removing "waste" from your processes. This waste can be caused by many things such as redundant steps, variation, work imbalance, quality issues, etc. Under Lean, lies the principle of the 8 wastes. All wastes can be categorized in to one or more of these groups.

Lean looks at everything from the point of view of the customer. Anything that does not add value for the customer is considered to be waste. When we said that Lean is a simple strategy, we weren't kidding. It is VERY simple. It is actually a lot of common senseā€¦but somehow a lot of this sense gets lost when looking at many different business processes and steps combined. Lean tools and concepts help us break these processes down into manageable pieces and allows us to see how each of these pieces affect the total picture. After all, you do not want to spend time improving processes that are not going to yield you any benefit in the total picture.

It is precisely because of Lean's effectiveness in breaking things down and making the waste easy to see that it has gained so much popularity. The basic tool of Lean, the Value Stream Map , provides a high level view of the company's value stream from start to finish while providing detailed information on the processes involved. This makes it very easy to see where your improvement efforts should be focused to give the biggest impact on the total value stream.

This helps shine the light on the wastes, but does not remove it for us. Once we know where the waste is, we need to find the root causes of the waste. We then use other Lean tools and concepts combined with some common sense and creativity to remove the root causes. Usually the solutions are quite simple and were not thought of before simply because it was hard to "see" the process.

So, what is Lean? It is a strategy that helps you see the waste in your processes, find the root causes of the waste, eliminate the root causes, and optimize your process flow while adding more value for your customer.

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