The Lean Approach: The Important Parts

Think Lean

The Lean Approach is an idea that focuses on maximizing customer value while minimizing waste, or, more simply put, creating more value for customers with fewer resources.

To accomplish this, lean thinking changes the focus of management from optimizing separate technologies, assets, and vertical departments to optimizing the flow of products and services through entire value streams that flow horizontally across technologies, assets, and departments to customers.

Eliminating waste along entire value streams, instead of at isolated points, creates processes that need less human effort, less space, less capital, and less time to make products and services at far less costs and with much fewer defects, compared with traditional business systems. Companies are able to respond to changing customer desires with high variety, high quality, low cost, and with very fast throughput times. Also, information management becomes much simpler and more accurate.

Eliminating Waste

There is a process in everything we do and all of our processes have waste. There are seven types of waste:

  1. Defects
  2. Overproduction
  3. Transportation
  4. Waiting
  5. Inventory
  6. Motion
  7. Processing

These are all at the root of unprofitable activity within an organization. Some activities are waste, but required. There is little we can do about those. For other activities there can be many ways to reduce waste. When you look at your processes through the Lean lens, you will be surprised at the waste that can be reduced or eliminated, and the significant improvements you can make.

The people who do the work, should design the work. Managers and leaders who take the top down, “I know what’s going on” approach will not know the whole story.  Let the people who do the work reveal the root causes and barriers to success. Let them be the source of the solution. They are the people who really know the process and where the waste is.

Successful process improvement requires that management creates an environment for flexible decision making. Where appropriate, employees should be encouraged and empowered to make decisions on their own, without fear of retribution. Having to check with management before making a decision might not add any value and result in over-analyzing the issue. Your customers don’t care about internal routing or reviews – they just want their stuff.

The Lean Approach is a never ending journey. One of the tenets of Lean is to seek perfection even though perfection will never actually be reached. However, processes change in both good and bad ways. Monitor your processes and adopt the mind set of continuous improvement.

Additional Information

To learn more about the Lean Approach consult the Lean Enterprise Institute’s website for more information and resources.


Jim Womack and Dan Jones, founders of the Lean Enterprise Institute and the Lean Enterprise Academy (UK), respectively, recommend that managers and executives about to embark on Lean transformations think about the following three fundamental business issues that should guide the transformation of the entire organization:

  • Purpose: What customer problems will the enterprise solve to achieve its own purpose of prospering?
  • Process: How will the organization assess each major value stream to make sure each step is valuable, capable, available, adequate, flexible, and that all the steps are linked by flow, pull, and leveling?
  • People: How can the organization ensure that every important process has someone responsible for continually evaluating that value stream in terms of business purpose and lean process? How can everyone touching the value stream be actively engaged in operating it correctly and continually improving it?

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