"True North" is a key concept in Lean process improvement. It is an idiom that emerged from Toyota twenty years ago, connotes the compass needle for Lean transformation. True North works as a compass proving a guide to take an organization from the current condition to where they want to be. It might be viewed as a mission statement, a reflection of the purpose of the organization, and the foundation of a strategic plan.
In general use of the idiom True North connotes a personal or business destiny that may be different for each of us. But in the context of Lean, True North is a precise, concise and universal set of ideals which, when taken together, provide a compass that transcends any particular organization, strategy, geography or culture.
True North refers to what we should do, not what we can do. It is a term used in the Lean lexicon to describe the ideal or state of perfection that your business should be continually striving towards. Lean is a journey without an absolute destination point, we will never achieve perfection. Opportunities for improvement never end, and it is only when we take the next step that we in fact see possible future steps. However, like a sailor we must be guided towards our shoreline. We look to True North to guide us while knowing that we can never arrive at the True North; it is a concept not a goal. It is the persistent practice of daily improvement by all your employees to advance to True North that makes organizations first class.
In a nutshell, True North is a vision of the ideal condition both from the standpoint of the customer and the provider that is distinguished at once by its simplicity and also by the challenge it presents to status quo thinking. While the ideals themselves can truly fit "in a nutshell", the journey to understanding and practice will last a lifetime.