in a Nutshell
by Tom McBride
Creative Solutions, Inc.
By now you have probably heard the term “lean” used in
at least one business improvement context. Perhaps
it was lean manufacturing, lean enterprise, lean accounting, or even
lean retailing. Many people
assume that lean methods attempt to improve efficiency by simply starving the
organization of resources; however, lean is actually all about working smarter.
It is fundamentally a philosophy of
reducing customer order-to-delivery cycles by eliminating sources of waste
(wasted time, wasted material, wasted capital, or wasted opportunity).
term originated in 1987 when Jim Womack and his team at MIT were working to
understand and describe the new manufacturing system pioneered by
. Womack’s team chose the
lean label, because the
system required less of everything (effort, space, defects, time, capital,
inventory, etc.) than conventional production systems, while producing more.
Several years later Womack and Jones distilled the lean philosophy down
to five principles in their book “Lean Thinking” (1997).
- Specify the
value desired by your customer.
- Identify the
value streams used to provide that value and challenge all of the wasted
- Make the
product flow continuously through the remaining, value-creating steps.
“pull” between all steps where continuous flow is impossible.
Note: The “pull”
method minimizes throughput time by maintaining low levels of work in
- Manage to
Dozens of tools and building blocks are available to support effective
implementation of these principles, including 5S (workplace organization), quick
changeover, mistake proofing, pareto charts, and cause-and-effect diagrams.
But tools and methods are only part of the solution.
Strong leadership and the support of a trained and motivated workforce
are absolutely crucial to success.
beginnings in the automotive industry, the lean philosophy has spread globally
to manufacturing companies of all sizes in a variety of industries.
It has proven to be the most powerful production system in the world for
improving productivity and customer service, while reducing lead times,
inventories, and defects. Outside of
manufacturing lean has produced impressive results for banks, insurance
agencies, retailers, distributors, law firms, and other types of organizations.
fraction of businesses have adopted the lean philosophy to date, and not all
transformation attempts have been successful.
The process is not easy, but those that succeed increase their ability to
remain competitive for the long term.