Lean – What? Why? How?

Lean management offers a different way to approach the running of a team or organization. With increased competition and faster responses essential to meet customer demand, new approaches to management are required to meet those needs. To understand Lean, the first step if to know exactly what it is.

What is Lean?

At the heart of Lean is the idea of maximizing customer value while minimizing waste. To accomplish this, Lean encourages a team or organization to focus on the flow of a products through the organization, rather than how it interacts with each individual part of the organization, technology or other resource that traditional management encourages.

A big part of Lean is the concept of continual improvement, where a team or organization understand that however efficient they are, new inefficiencies can be uncovered and removed, the key to continually look for those inefficiencies.

Why use Lean?

The idea of removing waste while adding customer value covers both cost reduction and improved quality, and for any manager both are desirable. However, the benefits of Lean are not just in those outcomes, the entire approach brings with it a change in focus. With teams dedicated to adding value, it is a positive change that can have a significant impact on productivity and improve overall morale of any team or larger workforce too.

In addition, eliminating waste allows for a better use of resources, reducing costs and increasing profitability. The positive effects of lean within a team or organization are shown to bring organization-wide benefits to those who adopt this approach.

How does Lean achieve this?

Lean focuses on adding value and removing waste, and it does this through a five-step approach.

  • Identify Value – At the heart of lean is the idea of adding customer value. The first step is therefore to identify the value proposition for the customer of a given product and establish how that can be improved. Here, we also identify types of waste found within the system to enable a team to take measures to remove it.
  • Map Value Stream – Visualise the path to the customer so that processes that addd value, and those that are waste, can be clearly identified. This can be done using Kanban boards or other visual mapping solutions.
  • Create the Flow – Flow is at the core of the entire Lean concept, with the aim to create a smooth flow from beginning to the end of any process. Waiting is a waste process within Lean, and areas that create bottlenecks, such as delays for external stakeholders or through lack of capacity for instance, should be minimized.
  • Establish Pull – The most efficient way to allocate resources is to only have them used when work is available. In lean, this is achieved with the pull system. Tasks are stored in a queue, and team members will go to the queue and take the next task as the finish a previous one. That is, new work is taken on as old work is complete.
  • Continual Improvement – Lean management requires us to seek continual improvement in processes. By focusing on the activities that generate the most value and removing waste activities as they are identified, and this requires leaders to inspire teams to seek out those areas of improvement to succeed.

Lean offers many benefits, but also brings challenges. Leaders need to inspire teams both in terms of value focus, but in particular continual improvement to obtain the most from the Lean Principles. This requires new thinking for leadership, allowing team members to take ownership of their tasks and with it the responsibility for improvement. Micromanaging every task and process will hinder Lean processes, something leaders often need to work on.

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